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E74 | Rebroadcast: Shannon Byrne Susko – The Accidental CEO Turned Reluctant Bestselling Novelist

Shannon Byrne Susko isn’t just a CEO, she’s a serial entrepreneur, business coach, keynote speaker and the reluctant author of two best selling books. Recognised and named as one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 in 2000, Shannon co-founded, served as CEO and led the sale of two SaaS companies in less than 6 years, before turning her hand to business coaching in 2011.

That’s quite an achievement for someone who comes from, what she describes as, a pretty traditional household where dad worked, mom stayed at home and she was expected to go to university and then get married. 

“You know, I was like, that’s not happening, I have things to do. I didn’t know I was going to do these things. But I definitely knew like, no, I don’t think so.”

Looking back she realises that: 

“I didn’t have a problem being a woman CEO. The problem is the old school thinking about women being CEOs. I didn’t even think about it… tech was probably the most accepting industry of a woman CEO at that time, because we’re all a bunch of geeks and geeks accept geeks, they didn’t care.”

In this hugely insightful episode, Shannon tells the incredible story of her rise to the top. Of her time as CEO, how she grew and sold two businesses in less than 6 years, of how she got Verne Harnish to help her get her company to a good place. As well as why she needed a mentor when she was running the show, why she’s transitioned into a business, leadership and CEO coach and more importantly, why she wrote two bestselling books that she never wanted to write. 

On today’s podcast:

  • How her entrepreneurial journey began by simply wanting to solve a problem
  • Why she became CEO
  • How she got Verne Harnish to help her 
  • The less than traditional business things she did during her time at the helm
  • 3 HAG
  • How she ended up coaching
  • The inspiration for her two books


How to Be a Woman in Tech* with Shannon Byrne Susko

*Spoiler alert – you just get on with it. 

Shannon Byrne Susko has more than twenty year of experience building and leading high growth technology companies in the financial services industry. Recognised as one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 in 2000, Shannon says she never realised her gender might impact her entrepreneurial journey. 

“I didn’t have a problem being a woman CEO. The problem is the old school thinking about women being CEOs. I didn’t even think about it.”

Being in tech helped her massively with just getting on with it, in her own words, ‘we’re all a bunch of geeks, geeks accept geeks, they didn’t care’. So much so she’s co-founded three companies now. Two of which she co-founded, served as CEO and led the sale of in less than 6 years. 

“I never knew until later on with the success that we had building the businesses and people asked me, ‘How did you do that? Like, how did you as a female raise $20 million?’ I’m like, do others have difficulty doing that? They said, ‘Yes’. Really? Well, I think I just told the story, presented the value proposition and sold the shares. And I had to deliver on it.”

And that is Shannon for you. 

From CEO to business coach

The transition from CEO to business coach isn’t a huge leap for people who’ve been incredibly successful at the helm of their company. The vast majority of CEOs are very keen to share their acquired knowledge, pay it forward to the next generation of entrepreneurs if you will, but Shannon isn’t like all the other CEOs. 

Where other CEOs might be chomping at the bit to become a business coach, it wasn’t an industry she thought about breaking into after retiring (in 2011):

“The interesting thing, how I ended up coaching was honestly, someone who knew what we had done called me and said, ‘We want to do what you did. Would you coach me?’ I had never even considered it. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. Let me think about it’.”

Nor did she have a burning desire to write a bestselling business book. Again, other CEOs might do it in order to get their name out there and to bolster their profile, Shannon did it for the opposite reason: 

“You wrote the books to help your clients?” asks Dom.

“No, no, no, I actually wrote the books so nobody would call me… I wrote the books because I figured it’s clear enough. Here’s the prescription – other coaches could use it if they wanted, or just CEOs and leadership teams could use it. But it had the opposite effect. More people started calling me”.

3HAG way

So why is Shannon so in demand? What did she do that others have failed to replicate without her input? 

Well, she coined the three year highly achievable goal (3HAG), her incredibly successful process that worked so well growing her two SaaS companies, that she’s now teaching it to other CEOs who are desperate for their companies to follow in her footsteps. 

But it wasn’t just the 3HAG that drove her success. She realised that everything in the company revolves around the people, and although she got rid of a traditional organisational chart in the business, she implemented a function-based, non-traditional organisational chart instead. This chart showed how they were going to work together and how business was going to get done. She had every member of her team stand up and say how they were going to own their position, declaring to each how they are accountable. Something she still does today. 

“As long as you’re growing your people, you’re going to grow your company. So that was my number one thing, always, always and when you run around executing as well, in the early days, that’s a hard thing to keep in focus.”

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