Executive Spotlight

Our Executive Spotlight series features interviews with accomplished business leaders from around the world and puts a focus on insights, ideas and perspectives that shape organisational culture and performance across key industry sectors.

Hart Hillman, CATA national Leadership Council Member, recently conducted interviews with several Canadian Leaders about Innovation. The largest high-tech association in Canada, CATAAlliance (http://www.cata.ca/) matches businesses with opportunities across almost every sector, so that we can all do business together. Reaching out from Canada, CATAAlliance members are connected with investment and partnership opportunities with the major global companies. We share the interviews here and acknowledge strict copyright to CATAAlliance.

Nitin Kawale, Chief Executive Officer, Cisco Canada

Nitin Kawale is President of Cisco Canada, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company’s Canadian operations, including sales, marketing, finance, distribution and services. Cisco employs more than 1,400 people in Canada, making it the company’s third-largest operation worldwide. Canada has also become a proving ground for many of the company’s most advanced and innovative technologies.

How do you think innovation can be developed and promoted?

Knowing your problem is the pathway to recovery… we’ve had a lot of debates and there have been a lot of studies that show no matter whether you’re a small business, a large business, the public sector, we all have our role to play in terms of generating innovation and productivity. I use those two terms together because there’s a tremendous connection between innovation and productivity. If you can impact product innovation by 1 percent a year, you double the standard of living every 72 years. Now if you take that to 3 percent innovation per year, it goes down to 24 years. If you take innovation up to 5 percent, it’s only 14 years. So you have to ask yourself where you want to be 10 years down the road… innovation and productivity have a huge impact on standards of living and economies, and we have to remember that as we build our businesses.

The seeds of innovation can be found all around us, and it can be realised in a lot of ways that drive productivity. To me, at Cisco, the people on the front lines know the issues, and more important, they know how to solve the issues. Today, you can tap into your front line people, your customers, your partners, these are the people who know what’s going on. So what’s really important is, ‘Do you have a collaborative framework and process that taps every single individual in that ecosystem who can help you drive that innovation and productivity?’

What can we learn from Cisco about innovation and collaboration?

First, when it comes to innovation, we’re not religious on where it comes from. We have a build (our preference), buy or partner model, and what we’re really all about is catching market transitions. If you see a market transitioning and you’re really innovative, then you can really capitalise on this. I can tell you, during my 17 years with Cisco, I’ve seen us be behind on market transitions, and I’ve seen us lead market transitions, and let me tell you the latter is a lot more fun than the former… so we tend to move very quickly, and in this industry, the cycles are becoming more and more compressed. And when you have such a talented body of people all around the world, it comes down to collaboration. How can you find the experts? How do you get the right people talking to one another to shorten development time and innovation time? That’s how we work as a company.

We are a very collaborative company. We facilitate our employees to be able to work with each other across the world with our technologies. If you have a framework that is collaborative and any employee can get to the information or to the expert they need. To have a collaborative approach that drives those skill sets is what we’re trying to achieve… But you need the business process change and people to make that mental shift to work differently.

What advance would you offer young professionals as they try to grow their careers in challenging economic times?

The one thing is, tough times come and go… Design your career, look at where the growth opportunities are. As the Baby Boomers continue to retire, in just several years, we’ll face an environment where there well may be more jobs that people, so the long-term looks promising.

What would you say to the small business owner in terms of advice?

Small and medium-sized businesses are very important and vital to some of the innovation and productivity I spoke about earlier… I think the challenge to small and mid-sized companies, in today’s market, which is global… they haven’t really been focused on innovation and productivity, and as the technology changes, it can actually help them achieve what they need to. The technology can make global business much more tenable for them. There is an opportunity to look and act like big organisations because the technology enables that.

What is your philosophy on mentorship, and what is Cisco’s view on mentorship?

We have formal systems around all of this, and I’m personally mentoring four or five around the world at any one time. There are always parts of the organisation you want to know more about. At Cisco, we have a formal mentorship program. But at some point, it doesn’t become mandatory, but it’s such a simple tool, I encourage all of my people to get involved in mentorship.

Can you tell us about some of the social giveback programs you’ve invested in?

Well, this kind of thing really matters in communities and it really matters to our employees. If they believe they can personally make an impact, it can really change your company. Everyone knows that if they have good ideas, we can make it happen. But employees are members of communities, and when they want to give back, there’s an opportunity there. It energises our employees, our customers, the communities we serve. So this is big for us… A lot of these ideas come from our social council and from our employees. It’s good for communities and it’s also good for our business in terms of driving the brand and ultimately helps our relationships, so it pays off.

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