How to create an inclusive future for all?
We invite you to learn the story of a Filipino who graduated from the US Military Academy, moved from across the Ocean to Europe to open an office in Poland, where 2,500 diverse range of employees currently work.
How did it happen that a military man became the head of IT in a large company and moved from the US to Poland?
In my case, after I left the military, I got into business consulting as I thought this would „catch me up” to my peers. This turned out to be the case over the course of 3 years. I worked in the manufacturing, automotive, construction industries in Texas, Michigan, Arizona and Paris, France. In 2000, I wanted to get off the road and find something more long term and that is when I began my journey at Cisco. I spent 4 years in the San Francisco Bay area in Engineering. Then 4 years in the Raleigh-Durham area as an IT Manager and then in 2008 continued moving East and crossed the pond to move to Krakow Poland to be in Sales. During my time in Sales, I had this idea that Krakow would be a great hub location for Cisco in Europe. In the beginning, no one agreed.
But in 2010, I was introduced to the man that ran the Cisco R&D office in Shanghai China, a man named Jan Gronski. Jan introduced me to the then Chief Operating Officer of Cisco, Randy Pond, who upon hearing this idea, immediately agreed to investigate the idea. A year and a half later, the office opened and as of now, we have over 2500 employees.
Was there anything that surprised you, in terms of entering a different culture, also in relation to combining work and private life?
Cisco has always made work-life balance a priority globally, so that was something that I understood. In Poland, it was even more defined and the societal expectations clearer. It was definitely a unique and pleasant surprise, both from a personal perspective as well as from a manager of people perspective. It’s always good to understand where everyone’s boundaries are as that’s a transparent start point for discussions when it’s sometimes necessary to get global business done.
In the US, at least at the various companies that I have worked at, I have to say that work life balance is a bit more of a challenge. The lines between work and life can be very blurred and not all companies take this line seriously. In Europe, particularly continental Europe, there is definitely much more of a cultural expectation of balance, even to the point of heavy regulations regarding not crossing lines in some Western European countries.
Professionally you are currently Global IT Director for Cisco, which is a very responsible role; but you are also a father of 5 – which is equally (or even more) responsible and important role – what is your way of combining fatherhood and work?
That is where working at Cisco has been such a blessing for me. Cisco has always given me the freedom to navigate my business responsibilities as a family man. Having a global role as my boss being based in the US often means that I have to balance calls both during the day in Europe as well as during the day in the US. Cisco in general is very focused on clear, task-based goal setting. That way employees know what they need to get done and by when, but Cisco isn’t prescribing that it must be between this hour or that hour. Of course, certain roles have more specific work time expectations, such as customer service. Nevertheless, for many other roles, it’s about getting the job done and the employee has a high level of empowerment in managing their schedule. It does take a certain amount of trust, both at the Corporate as well as the Management levels, but that’s the culture that Cisco has created.
The culture of trust both with clear task-based goals foster a culture that values diversity and inclusivity. In the description of Cisco employer’s profile it is stated that one of your ambitions as a company is creating an inclusive future for all – what does it mean for you?
From my perspective, it means that
everyone, every single human being, brings something to the collective table.
The opportunity at Cisco is that you bring your full self, not only your professional skills but your personality, your passions and your hobbies and we encourage people to find ways to engage with other employees as well as the broader community around us to not only participate in the corporate culture but to help us build our community culture. We know that engaged employees bring much more value to the business so it’s a win-win all around.
I agree with you, especially with the sentence that „everyone, every single human being, brings something to the collective table”. Thinking about your industry, I believe there is still a lot to do to equalise opportunity for all; especially in the context of women and men stereotypes in the tech industry. What is your vision of it?
I can’t speak to the entire IT world, although historically I know there is a stereotype of IT being mostly men. That being said, it is an increasingly outdated stereotype. Over the course of the last two decades, I have seen women vastly increase their representation in the tech world and while I am sure that work continues to be done, the trend is unquestionably positive. Cisco has made parity a real focus globally and I know at Cisco Krakow, that it has always been a key motivator. We have programs that encourage Girls in IT all the way down to the grade school level, as well as programs reaching into universities. We also support mothers returning to the workforce after having children. Women are very well represented even in the highest executive technical positions of Cisco.
It is good to hear that more and more companies in Poland are aware that returning back to work after a longer break, e.g. parental leave, is not “an easy peasy” moment in life. It is also a story about inclusiveness. You are a father of 5 children, so you know it from your own experience. Do you remember how Cisco changed in the context of supporting parents – how has this support evolved?
With regards to Cisco globally, it has always been a very parent supporting culture and they are very serious about specific benefits for parents such as paid maternity and paternity leave, emergency time off for family emergencies and numerous other benefits at a high level. We even have grandparent leave!
I can say that our approach with regards to supporting parents, specific to Cisco Krakow has certainly evolved over time. At Cisco Krakow, we are a very employee driven bottoms up organization.
What does it mean?
When we started the site, a large proportion of our employees were new graduates or early in their careers. When we asked what sort of benefits they were interested in, they were more focused on benefits relevant for that stage in life. However, in 5 years and certainly after 8 years, as our employee base matured and became parents, there were increasingly more requests from a parental audience.
And it looks like you took these requests seriously. Flexible working hours, hybrid work, psychological and medical support for employees and their families, additional paternity leave are the benefits that parents working at Cisco can take advantage of.
Yes, and great events for parents and children! Our Cisco Family Picnic is our most popular Cisco event where hundreds of children get to participate. We have frequent bring your kid to work days, which are always a big hit and we also create opportunities for families to engage in CSR/Giving Back opportunities together as well.
Is there anything you personally are using or have used from these benefits for parents?
I have absolutely taken complete advantage of the paternity leave benefits. It gave me the opportunity to spend precious time with our newest arrivals and with my wife. This is both a joyous but also often sleepless time. Without question, one of the highlights of the year for all my children is the Cisco Family Picnic, which we never miss.
Let’s go back in time for a moment, when you were at the stage of change, both professional (military school vs. business) and personal (change of place of life). Your story is a great example of professional rebranding. What personal characteristics do you think helped you go through this process?
I think the number one thing that I learned at West Point is that a person has to rapidly adapt to any situation, whether favourable or unfavourable, in order to achieve success and I have found that this approach is equally valuable in the business world.
May I understand that flexibility is the key to success?
With flexibility, the key isn’t to be prepared for every scenario but rather, to have a mindset prepared to adapt to any scenario.
In the military, you may have the best prepared plan but the enemy also has a vote in the outcome which often frustrates even the best plan. So do solid planning but equally important, always have several contingencies worked out just in case.
Never let perfect be the enemy of good enough.
So not only flexibility?
I think the three skills that served me best over the course of my career have been flexibility, persistence and a strategic mindset.
With regards to persistence, I thought that an idea had significant value, I often doggedly worked on it even if the odds were against me. Convincing some Cisco executives to move me to Poland took about 2 years but in the end, it worked out. In the case of the Cisco Krakow office, it took about 4 years but it worked beyond my wildest expectations. I had over 50 iterations of the Cisco Krakow Business Case Powerpoint deck. Every time I pitched it, I listened, learned and integrated new ideas and viewpoints which I hadn’t considered previously.
So based on your story, persistence is related to the time that you need to have or better – give yourself – to find the best possible solution while often we want results right away.
I always find it amazing at how many companies think in very short time increments. With long-term thinking though, it’s critical to anchor your planning with certain key themes. It underlines your strategic direction but can be also broken down into measurable sub-goals. You should keep yourself and your team accountable to deliver results not just over the long term but mid and short term as well but always with an eye to the big picture.
And this is strategic thinking you have mentioned above?
Yes. With regards to a strategic mindset, I think that one should always try to keep their eyes on both the tactical and the strategic and ideally deliver value in both realms. This also has its origin in my military background. Just to be precise: tactics are focused on the ground level of execution and strategy is focused on what are the conditions of success in the broad view. Two ways I have approached having a strategic mindset is looking at what defines success over the course of not just 3-6 months but over 2-3 years. And secondly, always be incorporating trends, technical or otherwise, from your industry as well as outside your industry, into your strategic planning.
So inclusivity also manifests itself in this aspect of doing business? Having an open mind and valuing different perspectives?
My favourite quote in this area is
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a window.
That sounds like something to be proud of, if this is how Cisco operates! And if we talk about being proud – what are you most proud of as a boss?
That’s more of a personal one. With regards to our earlier conversation, in the context of supporting parents. I have had 3 different women that reported to me directly. In each case, they were about to welcome a new baby into the world, I made it my number one priority to ensure that they felt they were empowered to do what they most needed to do to take care of their newborn and their families. I wanted to create an environment in which they didn’t have to worry about work. That they could do the most important thing in their lives which is taking care of themselves. When they did return to work, I made sure that the new balance of responsibilities which need to take into account caring for a young one suited them personally.
At a broader level, I am incredibly proud of our ongoing and growing cooperation with the Krakow Children’s hospital in Prokocim. I have been there many times unfortunately as a parent with a sick/injured child and I have learned that many of our employees have as well. As a result, one of our biggest collaborations in Krakow has been with the Children’s hospital with hundreds of volunteers doing many things with the hospital. I have heard so many heartwarming stories from our Cisco employee parents telling me how moved they have been by the opportunity to give back to a hospital which has literally saved the lives of some of our children. I am most proud of that without question.
Congratulations on this idea. I keep my fingers crossed for the company’s further development and effectiveness in translating the idea of inclusivity into real business activities. Thank you for our conversation.