Tony Safoian [00:00:00] I can’t wait to finally introduce the world to my new chief of staff. I’ve been working on this role for almost a year. Yeah, close to a year. And who you’re about to meet is someone I’ve been talking to for almost that long. And we look far and wide. We have to define what the role meant, because it’s a role that SADA didn’t have. But I’m really, really excited to have everybody meet my new chief of staff. Please welcome to Cloud N Clear Michelle Ambrose.
Michelle Ambrose [00:00:32] Hi, thanks for having me, Tony.
Tony Safoian [00:00:36] No, thanks for being my guest and thanks for coming to SADA. We’re really excited to have you. It’s something that’s completely new for the executive team and for me. So we’re all getting the opportunity to sort of blank canvas the role. Obviously, you have some great ideas about what the role will encompass. And we want to talk about that a little down the line, but, I’d still love to first and foremost, just sort of have you introduce yourselves. Let’s talk about your background. Obviously, you have a funny accent. So that means something usually as far as your history will dove into that. But please just tell us about you. Let’s meet Michelle.
Michelle Ambrose [00:01:20] Yeah. So hi. Well, my funny accent is Australian, so. And it’s also Australian because it’s colored. I’ve been outside of Australia for 13 years, so I spent seven years in London. I’ve been here in the US for six years. So you think it’s funny and I sound Australian when I go home, my mum says, God, I sound American. So I live in between the two. But I’m originally from Australia. I grew up there and the eldest of three kids. So I my parents grew up moved around in small businesses in Australia. So actually the small business part and the growing enterprises has been from very early days. I’ve been around business. My dad used to sit me down when I was five and like five, six, seven, and we’d go through the bookings. They rent motels and like go through the bookings and go through the plan. So there’s a lot of where I’ve ended up my life. And I’m like, oh, this is really familiar. It comes from from very early days. And professionally, I spent the first decade of my career in communications and marketing change management roles. Did my MBA, moved to London with the goal of sort of both traveling and working and experiencing a bit more with the world outside of Australia? And fortunately, I landed about ten years ago at Google and it was, what do they say? It’s like the opportunity strikes, but it’s also like you’ve got to be willing to take risks. That would have never happened if I had left my hometown and been willing to be there. But it was right time, right place. And so for the past 10 years, at Google first five years, I worked within our people operations team there at Google, I had a communications role that’s in planning and operations work for the Google L and D team. And then for the past five years, I got onto the rocket ship that was the Google cloud go to market organization when they were I joined Apps for Work. So earlier iterations. Now the workspace team essentially as their chief of staff about five years ago. And so it’s been five years in cloud go to market. I was the chief of staff at that organization. I spent some time in sales operations doing some sales planning, resource management. I went back to the chief of staff role as the old guru, and we were focused more on GCP platform. And then for the past year or so, before I jumped on board at SADA, I was leading the global onboarding culture and DEI efforts for Google Cloud. So I’ve done a number of different roles in that space as the organization has scaled and yea super excited to be on the other side of the fence helping to do the same work, really just in a different in a different role with the different bunch of folks, but really enjoying it.
Tony Safoian [00:03:58] Yeah, no, I think one of the things that we found so relevant, obviously in our search, when we found you and by the way, I’ve sort of pointed to you by somebody that we both know very well and respect greatly at Google; we won’t name her here, but is that sort of experience that experience that you have had within the broader Google, but also the early days of the Google Enterprise Organization was so relevant in this role that we’re going to define together because there’s so many things that, of course, Google starting to do in a way, that sort of industry standard. But there’s so many things about Google that are completely unique and rooted in a deep tradition that, you know, the vision we had for this role sort of was necessary to have that foundational understanding of how the how those things work, because we have that long tradition with Google as well. So a lot of these things are just simply natural and innate and still complex. But I was thinking, like, who in the world could I bring that would not require two years to ramp on just the inner workings of, like, you know, with Google. And that’s why just getting somebody exactly like you was so exciting and why I think we both took a really long time to make sure that it was right and we did it the right way. But and also just being at Google for work with the former sort of sales leadership, seeing that period where it was a significant growth of the business, really from something that was quite small and SADA is going through our own growth now alongside the broader ecosystem with all public clouds and with Google, which is growing, of course, faster than the other clouds. You know, I wanted to have someone who’s who’s seen that sort of exponential journey, which is full of known potential traps, but also a bunch of unknown risks and and someone who’s comfortable with inventing, you know, we have to do a lot of inventing. This does not playbooks for everything that we all need to do.
Michelle Ambrose [00:06:33] And it’s funny, though, because as I mentioned earlier in my career, I did a lot of change management. So I started off my career in communications. I found myself drawn to like the things that were new and changing. And actually, like when you think about that evolution, that cloud go to my organization has gone through and like where SADA is at and it’s growth. Like a lot of it comes down to building things, solving problems and managing through change. Like when you really think about when you’re scaling; whatever type of problem it is, those core emotions are at play, whether it’s your finance operations or like your go to market organization or whatever other part you’re trying to mature or go through and at the core of every single one of those things are human beings who need to do something differently and feel differently. So I actually at one point I had this like through my career, this period of like I want to do more strategy and operations piece and I had a real concern, sort of middle of my career, that all my background in this won’t be helpful when I start to do more of this work. I want to be close to the strategy and scaling businesses. And actually, I found that at the crux of the cloud go to market evolution, I sort of jumped in as chief of staff that we did the reorganization of that group. And I was a little like, oh, I’m in sales operations. I don’t know with my skillset is useful here and I’m still just learning the sales side of this business. But actually what I found was I was one of the few people in the room who was like, hey, we have to think about the change management that we’re asking people to look for. And that’s a really big part of that curve that I think is important and easy to be forgotten in all of the kind of numbers and targets and sales which are also super important, and that’s what we need to look at, something that’s that’s a part that I really enjoy. And I’m excited about doing more of that here at SADA.
Tony Safoian [00:08:12] Yeah, no, look, understanding the whole, like, lead, you know, lead to cash flow is really important. And you’re right, we do tend to forget what it takes, you know, get the operations part right as you’re growing because like, that’s the, you know, maybe the least exciting part for a bunch of people. Right. But like, you can’t actually grow. You can’t book deals. You can’t recognize revenue. You can’t pay people properly and measure quota and things like that, if the sales operations part all the way downstream doesn’t work into finance. So, yeah, I feel like we made great strides, you know, just learning, learning, like from the pain of running SADA too long on on on small business types of platforms of like all the things we now have had to do in the last couple of years to to prepare us for that. But again, having somebody on the team that’s mostly outward facing but can still understand the internal impact of everything going on out there, that’s customer facing and Google facing, as I think, you know, really, really critical. The other thing Michelle is like especially in these executive roles, we’re very careful in terms of how we select talent, vet talent jointly kind of make the decision fit and then ultimately, like bring people over, because they’re such important decisions that have a long, multiyear impact to people’s lives. And I always want people to find themselves when they are at SADA. I want them to find themselves to be in the best possible position that could be in like this, the right role for this person. Right now, there’s no role that’s better. So and you weren’t really looking! I don’t think you were really looking for anything particular and you really know that. I mean, you probably knew of SADA, but we didn’t know each other really. And so it was a little bit of a, you know, exploration or a lot of a lot of exploration, I think, to come to the conclusion and obviously have you come over eventually. But what were the types of things that, you know, where do you see the excitement in being on this side? Like at a partner, where the customer impact and the market impact and just ecosystem impact is different than being at Google.
Michelle Ambrose [00:10:55] Yeah, yeah, I wasn’t looking and that’s right, Kelly, if you’re listening. All joking aside, I think the difference, the attraction…
Tony Safoian [00:11:09] Yea Kelly! I targeted Michelle specifically. She was not looking. I was like a sniper, with a very specific target.
[00:11:17] But all joking aside, I think when you came to me with a proposition of the chance, I think, to like a big thing for me, again, I think with some of the uniqueness of the fit that we found was here’s an opportunity. I always said I was just close to 10 years at Google and I’d always had in my mind with what what a privileged I was very aware of how privileged I was to have that opportunity. And over the years, the growth and the things I got to see and be exposed to, I was like, I had this like, we need to share this. I go was like this. I want to share this at some point. Had always been sort of a mantra. I think as I started to hate that getting to 10 years, I had been starting to percolate on either what was next for me within Google or is this starting to be a time that which I’m ready to go and and think about what that next phase looks like for me. And you approached me at really like I was really starting to just have that that questioning for myself. And I think the opportunity to I’d always been fascinated about the channel and this mechanism of actually like how do we how do we grow a business and scale through the channel in itself, the notion of being somewhere where you can kind of wear lots of hats and be doing lots of pieces and I think have a the the size of your impact relative to the size of the organization. I think that was a thing where I feel like we’re as we spoke, there’s a lot I can bring to SADA from my experience. But there’s also I I’m going to get going to get to do with you. That is like really interesting, exciting for me to get stuck into. So I think it was a mix of being able to keep and continue to use a lot of the things that I have like and relationships and knowledge that I’ve grown over the past five years in particular, but then also get to like you put on a new pair of shoes and different hat and think a little bit differently about it and really work with you are really tightly across the EMT was super exciting.
Tony Safoian [00:13:07] One thing you commented on, which I thought was funny, is like new email address, new hat, but the exact same equipment and tools, Chromebook pixel workspace.
Michelle Ambrose [00:13:18] Yeah, I just.
Tony Safoian [00:13:20] I love that
Michelle Ambrose [00:13:22] You love it. I was like, oh, we’ve just done an invoice and left my my computer here. Yeah. And that’s interesting because I. I’m a Google fan, like there’s no I wouldn’t have left Google for from anywhere that wasn’t still either with Google or something aligned to it.
Tony Safoian [00:13:38] It’s interesting, like in most companies that are systems integrators or MSP’s, they eventually create a function that is sort of that manages all the alliances and partnerships and. We finally have that and Nikki Harley, and she’s doing an amazing job for the broad based set of alliances we have, which is growing, that team is growing. We’re bringing some unique things to market by virtue of figuring alliances while. But the other, you know, going into, like, defining the role now together is that the Google Alliance itself is something that I was never going to let go; like it was my job. It’s so fundamentally critical to the company that it is the job of the CEO. Yeah, so that’s like one part of where you and I talked about and again, the Google experience and being chief of staff in the past for for the for the enterprise business, like bringing that on to the executive team, my team, the leadership team. And where you get to, actually enhance the alliance. Make us operate even better within the framework of the alliance, but in a way that I’m not I’m not really out of that function, but we just get to do it better together. Yeah. Was was so important. So it’s like at least a third of the job. Right. We’re the findings are chief of staff now for the audience – or chief of staff at SADA, we have different things in different place. Just in the first few weeks, I already see a very significant change in how we’re able to engage with Google. And that makes me really excited.
Michelle Ambrose [00:15:41] Yeah, and I feel like that’s a place where sometimes I can speak both languages, I think that’s a real benefit of having been inside Google to your point earlier, if you have brought someone else who maybe had more channel experience or more sales or something else that in the mix there, I do think that given the commitment that SADA has to Google, that it’s going to be a really powerful thing that we can we can work on together for everybody’s benefit. And actually, I feel like in some of the conversations I had as I was leaving Google, a lot of what I have was like, oh, we’re sad to lose you oh, but, hey, that’s going to be really good. And I was like, yeah, I think it is like I think that was actually one of the things that I really when I went through that process of leaving, the fact that the majority of Googlers I really respect and asked about the decision and got their take on, it was like this is like a win win win all round, like we should do this. So I think that’s been good to know. And then I’ve also gotten to know more of the Googlers that you work with who are fabulous, fabulous partners. We have like Ahmed and others on the team. So that’s been great. Totally.
Tony Safoian [00:16:50] But that’s why I like it had to be you for this role, like it had to be Michelle for chief of staff because again, it takes so long just to understand how things operate. And it’s still a fresh enough set of eyes because the perspective is completely different. And, you know, it just it just makes us wiser and more aligned and better. I can do a lot of things, but I’m also aware enough to know that, like, I’m one type of instrument, you know, like I’m like I’m a hammer, not everything’s a nail. And now that I have you to, you know, bring a different perspective and ideas and strategies, like it’s just I just feel I feel a lot better. And I think I felt better. Like day one when you started, I was like, oh, Michelle’s here. But even in the last four or five weeks, I’ve seen the level of engagement you diving in and it’s so natural and fun. And you already like thick in the thick of it. Right. Navigating some very complex things.
Michelle Ambrose [00:18:01] Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s it’s been good to also start something, particularly transitioning during the pandemic. Like I was saying before, same equipment, same space, but also like it really does feel like a really nice continuous like oh OK. I’ve just kind of flipped over here and I’m looking at a different part of the puzzle from a different angle. But like where can I continue to be helpful and trything? It’s felt very natural.
Tony Safoian [00:18:26] Yeah, and tomorrow will be the second time you’re engaged with with this part of the company, but the first time you’re probably feeling like someone in charge, now. In our journey to become very resilient as an organization, the way that we build and operate a board of independent board members is super critical. Not only do how I and my team interface with the board, but how the board works together, how the committees function, how the board interfaces with all the executive management team. I’m really excited to to have your your partnership and help in that. And we’re getting ready to announce several new board members I’m super excited about some more on that later. So the team is going to get bigger and just more completely next level I feel like. People we’ve never been surrounded by before. But what have you found to be the most interesting and challenging part of the board in interaction and governance piece so far? I know it’s very early, but yeah, if you found that.
Michelle Ambrose [00:19:44] Yeah, it’s pretty early, but I think interesting. I think you have a great foundation. So I really think actually when you were talking to sometimes the way I think we’re talking about, I’m actually like pretty far along here with what we’re starting to build. Getting to know Wendy a little bit over the last few days, like she’s fabulous as our independent chairwoman. And yeah, I think that’s just a it’s a it’s an important part of our maturity of like how do we bring different parts of expertize to bear to really, like, as you said, build that resilience – the forever company that we’re working toward. So it’s also refreshing for me, I think, that my board views that perspective like a slightly different perspective on the business and how do we think through that and how do we like. As SADA grows make sure we’re maturing and getting that sort of like I’m I’m I’m going to go way back to Google time, but like Larry and Sergey joke about Eric Schmidt is like adult supervision. So I think it’s like in some of that evolution is like you’re getting you’re getting folks who’ve, like, been there, done that. And they’re going to help you figure out, like, what do you need to think about and what is the next step for the next two to three years. And personally, I think I’m someone who likes to look up and out and look ahead and future possibilities. So I’m super excited about learning from the board and figuring out how we take their insights and then bring them back into SADA to help us grow.
Tony Safoian [00:21:09] Part of having like a very small board is the committees can’t all do all the things that we need to do. Now, they’re going to be able to. So I think that’s going to be a new world for us. And, you know, we are in this unique position that we’re actually self selecting to build a board of independent members who are very diverse, by the way. And I love that we’re getting more diverse even. And when I say diversity, it’s not just like men and women and other ethnicities. It’s actually also like to me, like industry, diversity, geography, diversity. I really love what we’re building from that standpoint, but it’s self-imposed. We don’t have to do this as a private company we’re choosing to do it because we believe it’s the it’s the types types of things you want to do. If you’re if you’re earnest about wanting to build a forever company, just that opportunity to have to be challenged the right way to have a sounding board ask people around you that have done the things that you’re what you’re going to do already a few times. Right? Or scale before. Have run a public company, if that’s what we choose. Right. These sorts of people are going to be so valuable as our brain trust for the executive team. And yeah, we do what I want to be held accountable to a board as a CEO as well. So I think that’s every year I don’t necessarily have the required experience to run a SADA that’s like that much bigger than it was last year. So just having that around is, I think, very authentic to the growth mindset that we have all throughout the company. Really, we wanted to demonstrate it from the top. And the other part is the third, I guess, leg of the stool. I know there’s more, but the three main legs is and we just went through an exercise for the first time in which we did it all together. And as an executive team, were you were you were in in those sessions and that was kind of laying the groundwork of this virtual off site where we want to make sure as SADA grows that we’re not committing the very typical unforced errors that companies tend to commit. And of course, there’s a few of them. But one of the key ones is the way that the executive team and their respective functions interface with each other, is hyper, hyper critical because as there’s added pressure and scale and complexity, those things, sometimes if they’re not nurtured, they tend to fold under pressure. And all sorts of negative consequences that are suboptimal happen, but I’m so excited about having you as the chief of staff to be that functional and cultural glue almost among this amazing team.
Michelle Ambrose [00:24:27] I’m excited, too, I think. And it’s funny because this is technically the third time I’ve been a chief of staff is and I think one of the things that I’ve learned over a couple of iterations of that as I grew with each of those roles and they were four different sized businesses. The cool thing about the chief of staff is you’re the one person in the room that actually doesn’t like who’s looking at the room. So it’s like you’re the one person having that off and everybody else is thinking about their team or their function, their deliverables. And your job is actually to look at that team and be like, is this how is this team doing? Do we have the pieces we need? Where is the glue really sticky or is the glue not sticky like are there pieces that we’re just all ignoring or avoiding or like all of that stuff? So I think that’s one piece of it. Definitely not the first time. I didn’t I didn’t appreciate it the first time as chief of staff. But when I when we finish that role, I had several of the folks who were on that leadership team tell me a year later, like when you came in and like facilitated us and like pushed us and helped both grease the wheels, but also call us out. Sometimes they were like that changed the dynamic. It was hard for me to see because I didn’t know what it was before I was there. And that’s been something I think my mix of change management, project management, like two of the years I spent at Google, I was planning on operations for Google’s L.A. team. So I got to kind of really sit in on the folks who think about leadership. As you know at Google and how this is, I really like privileged and blessed, but learn from them as well. So I feel like that’s one part I feel really passionately about bringing to the team.
Tony Safoian [00:26:04] L&D is just so critical to the whole picture of things that can go wrong from an unforced error standpoint. But I think it starts with literally L&D at the executive level and cascades, you know, all throughout the company.
Michelle Ambrose [00:26:20] Right. And I like that. Like, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tony Safoian [00:26:24] That exact person in the room who’s looking at the room. I love that she’s actually looking at.
Michelle Ambrose [00:26:31] Yeah, I’m watching it. I’m not worrying about what’s happened, what I’m going to take away from it or what I need to put into it. But it was also like that how that team functioned as a leadership team. She like I really will say there was a lot learnt and saw from her leadership team about how they showed up and how they coached other Google leaders. So, yeah.
Tony Safoian [00:26:54] It takes a very, very kind of unique type of person to be able to do this job well, but also these types of roles. Well, and here’s how I frame it. I’ll let you kind of articulate of what it means to you. But one of the key success criteria for this role is for someone to be able to direct and influence and guide things, people and resources that don’t directly control, what’s your approach to that? That comes it seems to come so naturally for you, but it’s so admirable for me because I don’t believe in, like, authoritarian sort of directive in general. Like, yeah, you can ultimately tell people what to do as they report to you, but unless they understand the why and are excited about they’re not going to do a good job, and for me, when I’m telling people what to do, I don’t sometimes I don’t know if they’re just doing it because I’m the CEO or because they’re doing it because, like, I’ve directed them the right way. But in your role, like you don’t have a bunch of direct reports yet, you have to get all these people, executives, not executives, SADA people, Googlers to like go on this journey with you. So how do you do it?
Michelle Ambrose [00:28:19] I think there’s a couple of things that come to play. I, I think I bring in lately, and this is where I went, I found Google like home. And I feel like SADA similarly like home. And it goes right back to where I grew up. I do think like an owner, like I grew up, my parents owned businesses. So I grew up going, oh, that’s a problem. We need to fix that. So I think there’s a mindset that is more we than I. That’s critical because I think if you come into that, even even if I need to get this done, because it’s important. So I need you to do a for me. Let me get some words back up like like you’re starting the conversation or trying to get to the outcome with a selfish motivation. So I think having the goal is and I think establishing that goal or like being really clear about like here’s my goal and here’s my intention is a really important part of that process. I’m always a fan of bringing folks along with you. She’s somebody who’s telling me the other day, apparently my Australian accent helps with that. I can say hard things to me. I don’t know
Tony Safoian [00:29:24] That’s what all the managers think.
Michelle Ambrose [00:29:26] I was like I didn’t know that I cool. I’ll say good day more often when I start a sentence and see that changing things. But I do think there’s an intention of like good mutual outcomes that I generally tend to like hey, how can we get and also explicit if there is like downsides for folks and helping them through the process. I think a big part is like starting with we and painting a picture of like why whatever it is you want to get done is important. I try to take time to listen and understand people’s motivations as well. I think that’s something else that I think also, you know, I’ve played this role a few times. It’s clearly attributes I have that lean into that. And then there was, they have it on strengths finder. They have one called individualization, which is like you’re able to understand what people need in a situation. And so I think that is one strength. I’m I’m fast to pick up like, hey, what do they care about? OK, cool. How do I see? So how do I figure out what everybody everybody in the room cares about and where is the middle ground and where is the real conflict and understanding that quickly.
Tony Safoian [00:30:27] Doing that in an environment that’s supposed to be designed to create multi-way wins, to align incentives the right way, and sometimes the designs bad. And you discover that too, and you change design. But again, I think the design is there or the intention behind the design is there. The game is ours to do well and or not do well. And it’s completely in our hands just having the patience and poise and the gravitas to kind of put it together in the right way so that we can overcome this, whatever challenge we may be facing is is such an important part of our journey, because, again, even in our conversations with Google or with customers like. If you trust the intent, then the journey is not to figure out who’s right, who’s wrong, but like to figure out the right answer. Yeah, you certainly enhance that for me because I often don’t have the patience, it’s like when something is super clear to me, I’m like, why? You know? And you’re like and you’re like, hey, you know, this is why maybe we’ll figure it out. So that’s great for me, because I think, again, like nine of the ten times we’re going to see things the same way, but you’re going to have a different approach to solving the problem than my, you know, my hammer, which is like doesn’t always work. Was not the best tool. But it’s a very special set of skills. And I think it’s it’s super important to our lives with Google. It’s super important to how the board gels and works together and equally important in our different departments and department leaders work together. We just essentially have to make sure we don’t get in our own way.
Michelle Ambrose [00:32:20] If things are going good, it’s easy to just look at what’s going well and not do the hard work on the other pieces that, as you said, at some point they may come up to trip you up. They may not be obvious right now because, you know, you have growth in a growing market, so you’re like, oh, we’re good. We don’t have to worry about that. But I think I’ve been really impressed like five weeks in with SADA. I think you you hold on the team, hold themselves to a really high bar on that, which is super impressive.
Tony Safoian [00:32:46] Last twenty years Michelle imagine we haven’t had anybody to be like except for our partners, of course, customers, that kind of market feedback. But we do want to be our biggest critic. We do want to hold very high standards, not because we’re idealistic, we just think that all those things we want to achieve are possible. We just think that a net promoter score of seventy five is, doable you know. Like we just believe this, like we believe this kind of growth is totally doable. We believe having an immensely wonderful place to work where everybody loves their managers and respects their peers is totally achievable. So not doing it seems like the lazy thing. And then if you hold yourself to to the very highest standards, then generally speaking, it’ll be rare for you to disappoint a customer or disappoint your partners or each other. Look, it’s amazing to be recording this on Women’s History Month as well. Adding an amazing female powerhouse to the executive team is another unlock. The more the better. And we can’t wait to continue this journey together just so early in the first few weeks. But we already feel the impact. And I’m so happy that we get to share this initial story of this genesis, the origin story of how this all came about with our Cloud N Clear audience. And with that, I’ll let you take us out with any final words.
Michelle Ambrose [00:34:17] Well Tony like thank you for the opportunity for the start. Like I said, it felt natural. It’s like a natural transition to a space that I’m really enjoying. I’ve been so impressed with the team. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited for what we’re going to get done together. And just a huge thank you.
Tony Safoian [00:34:35] Awesome. Well said. Thanks for being my guest. I can’t wait to see what the year and years ahead have in store for both of us and for some. Thank you
Michelle Ambrose [00:34:45] Bye