Melissa Shaw is the CEO of Shaw/Scott, a global digital consultancy and marketing agency that helps retail, travel, and financial services brands create engaging customer experiences through technology. She started her career as an analyst performing both qualitative and quantitative analyses. Melissa believes her early work created a foundation and orientation that served her well throughout her career.
Know What You’re Passionate About
Melissa says her first job “is where I first got my passion for data-driven approaches to marketing and bringing the voice of the customer forward.” She believes she was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, just as the email channel began to explode, though Melissa’s success comes from much more than luck. “I was there through the early days of email marketing and vividly remember sending my first HTML email (gasp – aging myself) and seeing how I could crash our website by sending out targeted emails too quickly. My career evolved as I took over strategic services for Responsys,” notes Melissa.
In 2006, Melissa became co-founded Shaw/Scott. “I had a lot of passion for building diversity and approaching services work in a new way,” said Melissa. “I felt very strongly about building a diverse team of the best and brightest regardless of where they lived, and keeping overhead low with a mostly remote team.” Today, Shaw/Scott describes itself as “an award-winning, women/LGBTQ-founded business with an unwavering commitment to equity and opportunity.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Prioritize What Matters To You
Melissa starts each day with a “compartmentalized family time block” with her seven-year old son. She works hard to reserve her mornings for walking him to school. “I’m a single mom and I had to create pretty rigid time blocks to make sure that I am there for the important parts of life that ‘feed’ me besides my work,” explained Melissa.
The rest of Melissa’s workday is usually consumed by a lot of meetings. She notes that she is focused on strategic planning for her business and team, monitoring KPIs and constantly striving to maintain good lines of communication with the Shaw/Scott clients and partners. “Being a services company means we are in the business of building trust and relationships,” Melissa noted, “and I allocate a significant portion of my day to meetings that help me build rapport.”
When Melissa left her stable and secure corporate job to strike out on her own, she says she was “utterly depleted” and she “saw almost no women in positions beyond my level of director.”
Don’t Let Anyone Knock You Off Path to Success
Melissa was trying to bring her life more in balance, and when she quit her nine-to-five to launch her own business, her boss replied with, “Are you sure? You don’t have a husband, right?”
That was a defining moment for Melissa, who had a plan, and the savings to give herself a six-month runway. “I had strong connections and my first couple gigs lined up,” Melissa remembers. “I knew exactly how much work I’d have to cultivate to ‘make it’ on my own that first year.” Plus, Melissa had a fallback plan of jobs she knew she could pursue if consulting didn’t pan out.
Most of all, Melissa knew she didn’t “need” a husband to start a business.
You’ll Never Regret Surrounding Yourself with a Diverse Group of Smart, Committed People
During her first year after founding Shaw/Scott, Melissa made more than she ever had in her “secure” corporate job, and she traveled less and had more freedom to recharge and think about what kind of work environment she wanted to create for herself and others. “From the beginning,” Melissa said, “I saw that other smart and hungry people were out there, who for various reasons were stepping out of the corporate scene after seeing very few folks that looked like them entering into leadership roles.
Melissa proactively sought out a diverse team, and in turn they were at the core of her company’s early success.
Diversity comes in many forms including ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, neurodivergence, and other factors like religion, geography, socioeconomic status, and life experiences.
Melissa, who was born missing her left arm from the elbow down, had a lot of formative experiences being “other.” In her work, she is passionate about creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome. “I firmly believe that we do our best work when we bring in a diverse set of voices, viewpoints, and experiences.
Don’t Be Afraid To Fail, But Try To Fail Fast
Although Melissa has experienced great success, she notes that she’s also learned a lot through many experiments and failures. “In recent years, especially, I’ve tried to reframe those mistakes and lean into the idea that so-called failures are how you learn, grow and come out smarter and stronger on the other side.”
“My journey as a leader has been all about coming to terms with failure and embracing those lessons,” Melissa explained. “I don’t have one particular example to share, but, instead, hundreds of small decisions that have shown me how important it is to trust my instincts.”
Melissa has been learning to fail faster, because she realized that at many points in her career, she has been conflict-avoidant or scared to “call” a situation that wasn’t working out. But, she is learning to act more quickly when something is “off” rather than going to a knee-jerk reaction of trying to smooth things over.
More Technology Creates the Need for More Technology Experts
Melissa believes the pace of change will continue to accelerate, especially as we navigate the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic. “It goes without saying that old patterns of consumer behavior are being permanently reshaped in this historic moment. I think we’ll continue to see the evolution of tools and technology creating efficiencies in certain tasks that are completed fairly manually today,” Melissa predicts. “Somewhat paradoxically I also see the need increasing for smart, tech-savvy folks to orchestrate all of the new tech. Our space will always need smart, analytic-oriented, customer-obsessed individuals to turn data into insights. The sea change of technological advancements will create more opportunities for all of us, especially those that don’t hold on too tightly to the ways things have been done in the past.”
Always Be Learning, And Always Be You
In terms of motivation, Melissa says she is a huge fan of Brene Brown and can’t recommend her books or podcast highly enough for women in leadership, especially Dare to Lead and The Gifts of Imperfection. “I wholeheartedly believe in her model of leadership,” said Melissa, “especially building your own authentic approach, not clinging to outdated beliefs about authoritative leadership style.”
In terms of career advice, Melissa says women should listen to their internal voices. “If something feels off to you, it probably is. If you’re in an environment where your ideas feel stymied, don’t be afraid to move on to other situations that align better to your approach.” Melissa also encourages women to seek out mentors or peers to talk things through and help along the path to success. “I’ve been blown away by the generous support I’ve received from some key advisors along the way,” Melissa remarked. Melissa also reminds women to maintain a healthy passion for continual learning, which she says, “will never let you down.”