How to Standout in a Board Room Full of Flats with Michele Ashby

Our guest this week is Michele Ashby. Michele is the CEO and founder of ACE LLC, Ashby Consulting Enterprises LLC. Her success in climbing up the ladder is undeniable as she makes big leaps in her career for the last 17 years as a board member. She specializes in corporate strategic planning, investor engagement, and financial and business advancement.

Michel was named Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Colorado last 2019. She serves as an inspiration to all the other women of our time. She wants us to stay curious and take advantage of the opportunity to get ahead. Instead of feeling inferior with men in business, embrace being a woman who stands out and brings a new flavor to the table.

Michele’s website:


Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hi friends. I’m Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs, realtors and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to Rocky Mountain marketing. My guest today is Michelle Ashby. Michelle is on a mission to train 1000 women to take their place on corporate boards. She is the founder of CEO of ACE LLC, Ashby consulting enterprises also see and also has 30 years of experience as a gold specialist analyst, financial expert, independent corporate director and successful entrepreneur, she was named one of the top 25 Most Powerful Women in Colorado. So we are in for a treat today. Michelle, I am so excited to have you on the show today. Welcome.

Michel Ashby 0:58

Thank you, Katie. I’m so excited to be here. We’re going to talk about women and leadership. And those are two of my favorite topics.

Katie Brinkley 1:07

Well, you know, and I like to have my guests get to know a little bit about the person that’s coming on the show. So tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what life was like growing up? Oh, okay. Yes,

Michel Ashby 1:18

well, I grew up in Denver, Colorado, and I was in a kind of a middle class family. You know, I feel like we didn’t really have a lot of stuff that we you know, didn’t need but also we didn’t need for anything, and just had a fabulous growing up with big, you know, neighborhood like the kids and all that kind of stuff. I went to private schools though, I went to Catholic schools. And so I was at an all girls high school. And I mentioned that just because it had a major effect on me later in life and helped me understand the importance of like training women separately for men, and helped me in my career. I actually got out of high school, I got into nursing school, but I didn’t stay very long because I kept getting sick. Apparently I didn’t have a very good immune system in the hospital, kept giving me different things, staff and strap and I was like, Okay, I want to help people. But apparently, it’s not as a nurse. But I kind of had this entrepreneurial spirit all along and had worked since I was 12 in greenhouses, and then later on in retail stores. And I met my first husband, when I was working in a retail store and got married at the VA at a very young age, age 20 and started having children. So I had a couple kids and that marriage ended after eight years, it was a little rocky. And so I ended up with custody of the children and I stayed a single mom for 14 years. And when I went back into the workforce, I went in as a stockbroker. And to be a stockbroker, you don’t need a college degree, you do need to know how to get in though. And I used my contacts back to my high school days of some of the girls I went to high school with their dads were stockbrokers and I was able to connect with them. And they helped me do the training that I needed to do in order to get my license. So when I became a stockbroker, stock brokering is a sales job. And I realized pretty quickly that it really was about just selling product and getting that commission for the gym. You know, that’s kind of the generic training that they give you. But I wanted to know more about my clients, I want to know more about the product I was selling. And I happen to get a bunch of dead accounts, because I was a rookie. And it these accounts that I talked to the clients and they had gold stocks, and the gold stocks weren’t doing very well right then. And they would ask me questions like what’s happening with this gold company? And I said, I don’t know. But I’m going to call and find out and I’ll call you back. So I call the company and talk to the CEO, and learn about the company and ask the questions the shareholder had, and then I call the shareholder back and talk to them. But what I learned was that I really liked this gold sector. And so that’s where I decided to specialize. And I became one of the top 10 brokers in the country that focus specifically on gold and then became a mining analyst. And that projected me into an even bigger role where I started a trade association for the gold mining industry. And I ran that for 18 years and built it into an institution. So during that time, people go, Well, what does that mean? Well, I had to organize, you know, run the organization, but I also had to put together their events. So monthly luncheons, as well as conferences and what really caught on were these conferences and putting together investors with the companies and bringing that capital to these projects that needed a lot of funding in order for them to come to fruition. And that was where I really got recognized. I was working with the CEOs of all these producing gold money mining companies. Around the world that are publicly traded, and their largest institutional investors, and so everyone knew who I was because I was the one who was organizing stood up in, you know, on the podium and introduced everybody and that type of thing. And so that reputation and that interaction led me to my first corporate board in 2005. And since then, I’ve had other businesses and done other things, but I have sat on about six corporate boards, five of them public and one private company, and I am currently on a public board of a mining company that’s on the New York Stock Exchange. So that’s kind of a quick version of how I got here.

Katie Brinkley 5:38

Wow. And I think that too, it’s, you kind of just brushed over the fact that you’re on six boards, that that’s insane. Um, because just thinking about, you’re someone that was in nursing school. So making that transition from being wanting to help other people and be in nursing school to now being on all these corporate boards. As a woman, I think that is really inspirational, because there’s not very many women on boards out there. And that’s one thing that you’re trying to really make your mission is to get more women out there.

Michel Ashby 6:09

Exactly. So I got to incorporate boards in last I said in 2005. And I’ve been mentored by very wonderful gentlemen, throughout my entire career in binding and in finance. And I watched my male mentors climb the corporate ladder, get on three or four boards retire out, and they’re working part time, and they’re making six figures, and they’re playing golf or going skiing, or whatever it is that they like to do. And they’re they have a pile of stock options for all these companies that they’re on the boards of, and they’re set in their family acet. And that’s what I was mentored to do. So I have been included in the good old boy club. And along with the roles that that I played in my career, I also then was invited to these very, you know, high level roles as corporate director, and in 2016, I decided to stop working as much and start looking for Board Number three, and four, cuz I was on two boards at the time. And that’s when I realized there was all this noise, like there’s not enough women on board. And you know, Katie, to be honest with you, I really didn’t have a lot of female friends, or I may have friends, personal friends, but not career, you know, women in business, because I didn’t trust them. I had bad experiences with women stabbing me in the back as I was going up that ladder. And so I didn’t belong to women’s groups, you know, I knew what I don’t buttered my bread. And I needed to belong to all the groups that the men were in, because they make these decisions, the power in the money still lie in the hands of the men at the top. And that’s where I hung out was with these guys. And that’s that’s how I did that. But what I realized was, wait a second, why aren’t there more women on boards? And when when our board would, you know, say one of our boards would say, hey, we need another member. And we’d all say Who do you know, even I thought of other men I didn’t think of I didn’t think of other women, I thought of men and men’s names to add to the roster. And so I was like, Wait a second, I need to kind of do some homework here and find out why aren’t there more women on board? So I started just having coffee and lunch and conversations with women, in my own community, as well as when I traveled and ask you, why aren’t you on a board? You know, why do you think more women are dumb boards. And, you know, tell me about your career. And I met talk to about 200 women over 18 months. And I take notes, you know, and I had this file, I called it my unnamed at my super woman file, because they blew me away. Like they had these incredible backgrounds and experiences. And I was like, Wait a second, to me, you’re qualified to be a board director, but you don’t realize you’re qualified. And there are some other gaps that I recognized that they didn’t have. So that’s when I decided to start my own program to train other women to get on boards, and I set this bodacious goal of training 1000 women and making this move faster, because it’s just not moving fast enough, in my opinion. And you know, when I did my research to find out what was out there just for women to help them get on boards at that time, there, you know, the resources were few and far between. And so it seemed perfect to jump in and you know, create this program and then help other women get on board. So that’s what I did.

Katie Brinkley 9:21

I think that that is awesome. And I think that I liked the the fact that you saw that there were not more women out there and you decided decided that you were going to be the one to shift the narrative, despite the fact that it was a lot of men that had helped you on your way you want it to be the woman that changed that and got more women those seats on on boards. So I think that I’d like to just discuss a little bit about the mentorship of the people that were willing to give you the gift of their time and teach you about how to become a board member and now how you now transition that what you’ve learned from them into the people that you bring on board with your company.

Michel Ashby 9:58

Yeah, so I would say that there have like decades of training of mentorship that led up to that. And it was literally a phone call that I got from one of the CEOs that I knew through the trade association. And he said, Michelle, Hey, I just bought controlling interest of a company and looking for new board members, I’d really like for you to be on my board, would you be interested? And I said, yes, absolutely, I would. And because I worked at the executive level, almost all the time with these guys. It felt supernatural. So it wasn’t that I didn’t even feel like it was anything very different. It was just like, Hey, you want me to be there, I’m there, I’m going to help. I’m going to support I want to help to grow this company and help you get to the goals that you’re setting and all that kind of thing. Because that’s that’s how I approached business and life. And so it did seem seem normal. And then once I got on the board, it was small company, number one. So there were just a few of us. Number two public companies typically will have legal counsel and accounting firms that are there as advisors to help the directors. And it was an informal training, if you will. And just here’s what you need to know, here’s your agenda, here’s the topics that we’re going to be talking about, oh, this meeting, we’re going to talk a potential merger, do your homework on this, and they’d send you the materials, etc, etc. So it seemed like the guidance was built in. And I didn’t really have to do a lot to find it, if that makes sense.

Katie Brinkley 11:22

Yeah. And I think that, that that makes perfect sense. And I think that I love the fact that you are talking about how these people were willing to just be there for you and share their their knowledge, and you’ve been able to transition into helping others. And I think that having a mentor is so important. And you’ve been able to be on the inside track with a lot of these good old boys clubs, as you put it. And what is something that you try to share or teach with people with your mentees that you’ve learned in this good old boys club that you that you think is something that everyone can benefit from?

Michel Ashby 11:59

Well, there’s a lot that in that question. And the short answer is when I’m training women for board roles, or the CEO suite, because you know, let’s look at the boards, the boards were at about 20% women on boards. That’s a very generic number across the US and Canada. But let’s say that that’s where we’re at, we don’t in the CEO suite in Fortune 500, we’re at 7%. So if your name is John, or Michael, you have more of a chance of being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company than if you’re a woman. So I also support women that go into the CEO role, because this is where the biggest decisions are made. So what that comes back to your question is to talk about the executive vernacular. So one of the gaps, I recognize that these very experienced women that I was sitting across from that I found to be extremely competent and confident, by the way that they didn’t understand this executive vernacular, and all it is, is like this, you know, it’s like teaching someone a new language, like just learn a little bit and to get you get, you know, get you in the door, and then you’re gonna, you’re gonna pick it up after you get there. So it’s speaking the language, understanding the culture, because we’re talking now about a patriarchal culture, and all of us experience through an org organizational chart, which is kind of the black and white part of it. But to break the glass ceiling is what people talk about, I say that we are best suited when we understand how to utilize that executive vernacular, when it applies to us and to help us then to enter that field and then to to function there at a very high level.

Katie Brinkley 13:35

So I’m sure that this is something that you’ve you, I wish that he did have the magic answer to this, probably a lot of the world’s problems would be solved. But despite all the steps of the women empowerment and and women, getting those getting equal pay and everything. Why don’t you think that there’s more women on board, board seats? Do you think it’s just women not knowing how to apply? Or do you think that it’s men just looking at other men? Why do you think that there aren’t more women that are sitting on in those positions of power and decision making on board seats? Well, I

Michel Ashby 14:13

think that it really comes back to the cultural piece. So our patriarchal model is 1000s of years old. So if we think we’re going to change it in a nanosecond, we’re mistaken. It takes time to shift that, you know, and as we shift that culture that who’s making those decisions at the very top, who’s in power are is really how all of us are affected. And we see more and more desire, if you will, as well as pressure from shareholders and all kinds of stakeholders who are saying wait a second, the people who are making decisions for me are don’t look anything like me, and they’re claiming that they understand what I want or need or what’s gonna serve me best, but they don’t look like me, you know? And so that’s where we this realization like wait a second, we need a movement to shift that and That’s what we’re in the midst of like, This is historic history being made, I believe in the shift that’s happening. So it’s really a very deep cultural thing where it’s so easy to just say, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is how we’ve always done it. It’s easy to think about having it our way. And so we keep doing it. And to be honest with you, Katie, it’s a good gig. If you can get it yet. There’s no term limits. I mean, can you imagine there’s no term limits, you’re working part time, if you’re a big company boards, which I’m I’m not on big company boards. But if you get on, you know, these boards, you get on three or four of them, and they’re paying it some 25,000 to 250,000 a year for your director fees. And then you get stock options on top of that, and there’s you’re in, and most likely, you’re not going to be taken out unless you take yourself out, or the company gets bought out. So that’s why you see people, men in particular, even into their 80s, who are still sitting on boards, and they might be vital, and they might be bringing value. And they might be, you know, not we don’t know, because we don’t know them individually. And I don’t like to generalize like that, because I know some 80 year olds who are pretty spry and pretty sharp. So and I hope that that that will be me when I get to that point. So it’s a good gig. Yeah. And

Katie Brinkley 16:21

I think that to someone might be listening right now. And they might say, Man, this 250,000 times at bat, it’s so incredible. How do I start? Where do I sign up? How do I get in? And that’s, that’s what you that’s what you’re helping women do. Right? So tell us a little bit more about your company, and how you are helping women that deserve to be on these boards, land those board positions,

Michel Ashby 16:43

right. So first is education. So I do these, I was doing these informational sessions before the pandemic, and I was all over the North America, I train women in the US, Canada everywhere. Now, because we’re virtual. And those information sessions were really just to help women understand where we are, and like what it takes to get on a board, and how you do it in a quick q&a kind of thing. From there, I developed an online course, which is a primer, there’s four modules in it. And it’s like how to do your board resume board resume is very different than your career resume, by the way. So you need to have that knowledge, then how to go to a board interview, how to go through that, and then how to get on board. There’s a module on that. And then there’s a bonus video on how to behave in the boardroom, which is an interview with CEO, John Kelly, who is an advocate for women in leadership roles, and just a fantastic supporter for all of us to get into those roles. That’s an online offering that I have, and I have a special that I’m running right now, during the pandemic, I’ve discounted at 90% to get it to $59.50. It’s normally $595 to take that and I offer a free coaching call. And so for the last 10 months, we have over 400 women who’ve gone and done the online primer, which is phenomenal. And that’s just a way to for you to get a sense of this is for me, or it’s not for me. And in the coaching calls. It’s great, because you can ask me, you know, your specific questions like why I you know, what, I’m in marketing. And when I qualify as a board member, you know, like, would they even be looking for somebody who has a career in marketing? Well, the answer is yes, if it’s the right company, and you got the right background, so we have to dig deeper into that. The other offering I have is a certification program. And so this one is I teach virtually, full on live on. And the women who go through that it’s an eight week process. And they come out with a certification that says I am a qualified board candidate, and that they understand board governance, financial acumen, how to get on boards, risks and responsibilities, and on and on and on. So we go very in depth and all of the areas of expertise that women need to understand before they walk into the boardroom.

Katie Brinkley 19:04

Well, what do you I mean, you’ve been on a lot of boards, you’ve seen a lot of people do things the right way and a lot of mistakes being made by doing things the wrong way. What do you think the biggest mistake that business owners are making when they’re trying to grow and sustain a successful businesses?

Michel Ashby 19:21

Wow, that’s a tough question. There’s mistakes and then there’s life happens to you like the pandemic and you’re, you’re going along great. And then all of a sudden, what you offer doesn’t work anymore. And you either go out or you you remodel yourself, right? You pivot and you got to figure out what that looks like, what it’s gonna cost you and how you’re going to monetize it, but you’re not you’re a solopreneur I’m a solopreneur. You know, these challenges that we face every day, right? We have, you know, how do I deliver what’s going to be the best thing what’s shifting out there in front of me? How do I meet the market? How do I listen and make sure that I’m listening to them? right people. So am I reading the right information to keep me informed? And what are the dangers? You know? And are they regulations? Are they customers? Are they illnesses? You know, there’s so many things that we have to deal with now as business owners that I think that it’s tough to have one answer to that. But mostly, you know, we, you and I started talking about this, you know, like self care and taking breaks and knowing that you do what you can and you prioritize, and make sure that part of that priority is yourself. If you’re faithful, your face, your meditation, your spirituality, your family, and then serve. That’s what I say.

Katie Brinkley 20:44

Yeah. And I think like you said, we were talking about it before I hit record on the importance of self care. And I think that as a business owner, a solopreneur. Unfortunately, we can have the bad habit of putting ourselves in our self care and taking care of ourselves at the bottom of the priority list, because there’s so many other things that need to happen, need to be taken care of. But setting aside that time, like you said, for meditation, or exercise, or whatever it is that allows you to refocus on yourself is so important. So yeah, I’m glad that you brought that up. And I think that it’s, it’s something that a lot of visit. I mean, I fell into it, especially during the pandemic, I was just going nonstop. But it definitely changed. I have to set my alarm an hour earlier now and I get up and I have that alone time so that I can exercise or just write out in my calendar that the things I’m going to accomplish that day. And it’s made a world of difference. Yeah. So yeah, very glad you brought that up.

Michel Ashby 21:43

That’s good for you. That’s really good. I wanted to also mention another thing on the certification program, because this is the big kahuna thing that I do. And I have 81 graduates right now. And of those 81 graduates, we filled 43 corporate board seats so far, and five women who’ve gone through this program have become CEOs of companies and two new companies have been started. And we have women, as I said, all over the world and Canada, the US, I have a cohort that’s going through the process right now. And I have four women in Canada for in the States, one in Ecuador, and one in Switzerland. So the virtual aspect has allowed us to accommodate women globally, which is really great. But here’s the big message, we need you. If you want to get into a leadership role, we really need you. And this is not for the faint of heart, I’m going to tell you, it’s not for everybody. It’s a tough role, because we aren’t quite welcome in the boardroom, in every boardroom yet. And so we’re still pioneering and I think that’s the other part that really motivates me is really helping to push these women, not just mentor but push and support and be their cheerleaders and pump them up and let them understand just how phenomenal they are. And what they have to bring and offer is what the world needs. And this is the place that they can actually make that difference that they’ve said they wanted to do maybe all of their life.

Katie Brinkley 23:11

Oh, yeah. And I think it’s so incredible that you’ve half the people that go through it over half the people that got through it have landed these incredible opportunities and roles. And this has been such a great conversation. I could talk with you about this for a lot longer. But we are nearing the end of the time limit here. So I would just love to finish on a high note, what is the best piece of advice that you have ever received? And how has it impacted your business or your life? I think the

Michel Ashby 23:40

best piece of advice that I received was a colleague of mine early in my career said to me, Michelle, you have an advantage because you are a woman look at me, I’m in a dark suit. And there’s 12 other guys that look like me that have degrees like I do, and I’ve got to compete with all of them. You don’t have to compete with any of us because you stand out. So Stay curious. And when you’re invited to go to these meetings and go in the boardroom, also be grateful because you have a leg up. So take advantage of that opportunity to get ahead. And I always thought that maybe we weren’t quite, you know, in that position as women to be getting ahead, I didn’t realize that I was ahead of him in his mind. And so I remembered that for a long time. And every time I felt uneasy about getting into a situation where I’d walk in a room, and it’s like a cocktail party, and it’s all men in the mining industry, and I would just you know, go, oh, well, there’s only one of me. Let’s go. And it was easy to walk around and introduce myself and they’re curious, like how did you get here? Who are you? Why are you here? All those kinds of questions and I was super happy to engage and talk you know to answer those questions and learn more about them.

Katie Brinkley 24:57

That is fantastic and like It says it’s, we see it as like one the only woman in the boardroom, but they might see it as in a completely different way like she’s standing out because she’s the only woman here. So that is fantastic advice. And I’m so glad that you shared it with us. This has been such a great conversation. And like I said, we’re wrapping up here, where can we find out more about you and your business online.

Michel Ashby 25:21

So our website is really full of everything. And you can sign up and get the discount on my online primer there. And it’s at ACE LLC dot consulting. And if you want to find me look on LinkedIn, because I’m pretty active there. It’s Michelle Ashby, and it’s Michelle with one L. And there’s my email address there too. If you look at contacts in the LinkedIn, you can then reach out directly

Katie Brinkley 25:45

awesome and all this information will be in the show notes, guys, if you want to connect with her or if you want to make sure that you have the spelling right on her name. This has been such a great conversation again, thank you so much, Michelle, for joining me today and I really appreciate you coming on the show.

Michel Ashby 26:01

Thanks, Katie. I’m glad that we could get it done. I’m so excited. Thank you.

Katie Brinkley 26:07

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at Connect with me on LinkedIn or check me out on Instagram. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.