Ex-Cisco Canada President Bernadette Wightman: Exit Interview Part 2

In part one of CDN’s Exit Interview with outgoing President of Cisco Canada Bernadette Wightman, the leader talked about Rola Dagher, the new chief executive who will be replacing her and what advice she gave her. Wightman also touched on the challenges of running Cisco Canada.

You can read Part One here.

In part two, CDN continues that line of questioning exploring topics such as the service provider market, digital transformation and what was her most difficult decision.

During the interview Wightman told CDN that the hardest question posed to her was if she needed to re-invent herself now that her Canadian term is over. Look for that answer off the top along with her thoughts on gender diversity and if being the President of Cisco Canada was the best job of her life.

The following is an edited transcript.

CDN Now: Do you feel you need to re-invent yourself?

Bernadette Wightman: No! I am the sum of my parts. I have value and I’m proud of all the partnerships I made here. They are all important to me. It keeps me in good stead and the experience I have gained here over the years and with Cisco in many different countries and cultures that I have been exposed to; all those things have made me who I am today. I am very thankful to my mentors. Alison (Gleeson, the senior vice president of Cisco’s Americas organization) is amazing. She has been so supportive and a mentor to me here in Canada. The amount of times I run up to her is countless and she always has been there for me.

CDN Now: What were some of your most difficult decisions at Cisco Canada?

B.W.: We had to go through many changes and the worse thing is to let people go as part of a restructuring or refocus. The outcome is going to be great but going through that transformation it is tough and I had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about those changes. You have to come with a conviction, but the capacity for this team and the partners to come on that journey with us for me has been fabulous. The team here have been amazing especially on how they coach partners and inform our partners on the best ways to go through this journey. It really felt like one team. It feels like that.

CDN Now: I polled some partner executives and the big question they wanted me to ask you is why move significant resources away from the service provider market? Where you mandated by corporate? You did plan on moving more resources to address the software opportunity about a year ago. Did that work out?

B.W.: We’ve actually expanded our service provider teams in our partner organization. I am very pleased with that and some of the managed services we built into that will lead to more services type solutions with Bell, Telus, Rogers and others. We are also getting into areas of the market that we were never in before. We are also working with Meraki and having a security offering in an as-a-service model. I actually feel, from a data point perspective, we have more people now and looking to invest more in this area. The company strategy from last year was a combination of five strategies and we are increasing that to seven now for service providers in the Americas. This is hugely important and you will see more investment from Cisco; not less.

CDN Now: Digital transformation in Canada and Internet of Things or for Cisco the Internet of Everything. Do you feel you did enough in those two important areas that you championed for Canada?

B.W.: No! We can never sit back and say ‘we did enough’. We have to keep moving forward and take the team and the partners with us. This for me is really important to digitalize this country. We can move faster and if you look at this objectively we cannot possibly keep the productivity this high without digitalization. I am proud of what we have done especially with the Innovation Centre that Dr. Rick Huijbregts runs. We need to move forward and we need to go up a gear.

Bernadette Wightman with David De Abreu and Alison Gleeson at the Canada Party as part of the Cisco Summit in Montreal

I want to pick up on the government engagement; something that’s really great in Canada is the capacity for the government to be open and transparent. They are in listening mode for business and I think it puts Canada in good stead. I’m not trying to be political here but the ability to give my opinion on how Canada needs to build on its digitalization strategy is great. But we still need to move faster. Not even half of the executives in Canada are doing anything digitally. That’s four out of every 10 decision making executives are doing a digital strategy. We need to move into action. We need to go faster. Partners are moving quicker on this I feel and they are differentiating. But we need more partners working as a group to get on board with industry-based solutions. At Cisco corporate meetings, I get the opportunity to read out all of our digital transformation wins in the Americas. We have so many of them in Canada. The partners are getting more and more smart about building ecosystems around digital transformation and using the new Innovation Centre as a catalyst for that.

CDN Now: Gender diversity in Cisco and overall in the IT and channel community in Canada was something you championed. Do you think you made a difference?

B.W.: I hope so! My own leadership went from one women when I joined to now 40 per cent women. I was proud to help launch the Women’s Entrepreneur Circle to help female business owners use technology to grow their businesses and hone their skills. I was honoured to serve on the Premier’s Advisory Council to encourage female participation on Boards. And, I’ve made it a point that when we at Cisco recruit, we must include diverse candidates. If there isn’t at least one woman in the mix – we go back to the drawing board. I’ve seen a lot of positive change in the industry here in the last three years – and met a lot of great women! But, we definitely need to keep working on gender diversity.

CDN Now: I’ve interviewed several – mostly American-born executives – who ran a large Canadian subsidiary like Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, HP and others. What they have all told me was it was the best job of their lives. How would you rate the Cisco Canada President’s job in your career? Is it the best job of your life?

B.W.: My current job is always my favourite job! My favourite jobs are those that allow me to do meaningful work and make a difference. Canada is a great place to do business and I was fortunate to be here as digital transformation really began to take off for our customers. Canada is an innovative and creative culture that celebrates diversity and collaboration. Canada – and the many friends I made here – will always hold a special place in my heart.

Bernadette Wightman played a big part in the opening of the Mackenzie Healthcare Innovation Insitute along with Altaf Stationwala of Mackenzie Health, MPP Reza Moridi, and BlackBerry CEO John Chen.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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