Cisco Leans Into People And Culture At Its 2019 Customer And Partner Event, Cisco Live

By Patrick Moorhead - June 25, 2019
Cisco leaned into people and culture at Cisco Live 2019

The week before last, I attended Cisco Live 2019 in San Diego, CA. If you follow our analysis and articles, you know that Cisco System is a company Moor Insights & strategy’s analysts and I follow very closely. We follow them closely in compute, cloud, storage, networking, software, security and its leadership. One of the best ways to get to know any tech company is to attend its premier customer and partner conference like Cisco Live. It’s the place to be if you and your organization are involved in networking or security in any way.

Attended by over 28,000 this year (and according to Cisco, an impressive 500,000 online), the event offered keynotes, technical training, exhibits, and more. Like last year’s conference (see my coverage here), Cisco Live 2019 was relatively quiet on new product announcements and was more of an affirmation of strategy and previous announcements. Therefore, I again wanted to turn my attention towards some of the company-culture takeaways from the conference. For further reading, my colleague, networking analyst Will Townsend, offered his take on the event here.

Chief People Officer Fran Katsudas kicks off C-Scape

I attended an event-inside-of-an-event called C-Scape—essentially an industry analyst conference inside of Cisco Live. Unlike any other analyst event I’ve ever attended, Cisco had its Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Fran Katsudas, kick things off. I’ve written a lot about Ms. Katsudas and her team’s initiatives over the past few years, from Cisco’s People Deal, the promise Cisco makes to its employees, and what it asks in return,  to how it fosters what it calls a conscious culture within the organization. While I credit CEO Chuck Robbins for setting Cisco on its current people-first course, Ms. Katsudas and her team deserve enormous credit for being directly in charge of these efforts. Needless to say, I was excited to hear from her directly keynoting C-Scape.

Katsudas led her C-Scape keynote off with a joke, confirming that the audience was, in fact, in the right room, despite the fact that she hadn’t spoken at C-Scape before. Previous C-Scape keynoters included the Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Marketing Officers and business united leads. She set the table by asserting that company culture is how Cisco wins—it has an enormous impact on its bottom line and can create greater value for its customers. This is true for every technology company, but even more true for Cisco, a mature (non-Unicorn) company fighting for Silicon Valley talent. She then described how Mr. Robbins, upon assuming the helm, wanted to identify which elements of Cisco’s culture should be celebrated and which needed to be stamped out.

A company in transition

Ms. Katsudas spent some time discussing Cisco’s trajectory over the past decade, describing it as a “journey of transformation.” She made the interesting point that while the rise of the cloud, whitebox, software-defined networking, and subscription services originally posed a threat to Cisco’s business model, Cisco turned around and embraced them. Now, Ms. Katsudas emphasized, what once were threats have turned into Cisco’s biggest advantages. SDN is a huge part of what Cisco does now, as it is central to the company’s automation platform. I think this was a fair assessment, although I would have preferred Cisco lean into SDN faster and heavier. Cisco’s success in security and software subscription revenue has been impressive, for sure.

Innovation in People and HR

She went on to talk about how crucial innovation has been to the company’s transformation strategy, noting that Cisco is investing $6 billion in R&D back into its core businesses. She noted that Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure came about as a result of innovation in its datacenter business, and also mentioned Cisco’s innovative Catalyst9K switch subscription (the fastest ramping product in the company’s history). She wrapped up the segment by emphasizing that every single quadrant of the company has to be innovating at all times—including in the realm of HR, where she noted the importance of rallying around employees’ different skills and capabilities. I thought this was a good transition back into Katsudas’ day job, Chief People Officer.

This brought us back to Cisco’s aforementioned People Deal, originally launched in 2014 to address “tough feedback” from Cisco’s own people. Through the People Deal, Cisco sought to give employees an “open and agile” environment to pursue good ideas, challenge the status quo, and develop personal skills. She went on to say that as a result of the People Deal, Cisco’s people “came alive.” She shared some key statistics about happy people and happy teams, such as the fact that the “best” teams retain their employees 2.74 times over, and that employees who utilize their strengths on a daily basis are more 20% productive and creative and six times as engaged at work.

The next point she made was that teams were the “trojan horse” to inclusion, emphasizing Cisco’s goal of mirroring the markets it serves with full spectrum diversity. She went on to say that as Cisco embraced its commitment to diversity, it saw its numbers go up. Cisco saw the benefits in its global pay parity and is now sitting at the position of the 7th most diverse company in tech.

Ms. Katsudas spoke more on Cisco’s Conscious Culture and the company’s overall philosophy on giving back to communities. She explained that Cisco employees are “empowered and recognized” for their efforts to give back to the causes that matter to them. She also emphasized Cisco’s ability to make impacts on a large scale, thanks to its global presence in over 100 different countries.

Wrapping up

My main takeaway from C-Scape was this: Cisco cares so much about its employees and culture that the company kicked off its industry analyst day with Ms. Katsudas and her people-focused content. Enormous thought goes into who a company decides to put front and center at its events, and you better believe this was a deliberate choice meant to signal Cisco’s priorities. It’s become abundantly evident that Cisco sees its People Deal and company culture as one of its most significant differentiators. I tend to agree.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.