An exit interview with ex-Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman: Part 1

Early on in Bernadette Wightman’s tenure as the president of Cisco Canada she had a coffee date with non-other than Rola Dagher, who was at the time networking sales director for Dell Canada. Little did both know three years later one executive would be replacing the other.

Today Wightman and Dagher are working together to ensure a smooth transition of leadership up until the beginning of summer. Then Wightman plans on returning home to the U.K. to get some much-needed time with her family, she told

It’s been six years since she’s been full-time at home. During that time, she’s led Cisco Russia and CIS, and Cisco Emerging Markets in the Middle East and Africa. And, of course Cisco Canada starting in the fall of 2014.

Wightman does not know what her future holds, but she is pleased to leave the Canadian market on a high note with a record setting third quarter and knowing the subsidiary is in excellent hands with Dagher. spent some time with Wightman going over her whirlwind three-year term as the leader of Cisco Canada and we plan to present her story as a two-part question and answer feature.

The following is an edited transcript. What are your next steps?

Bernadette Wightman: I’m laughing at the question because how I got to Russia was I got a phone call on a Thursday morning asking me: ‘Do you have a hat?’ And, I say: ‘Who’s getting married?’ I needed a fur hat since the next day was Friday and I was going to Russia and I stayed there for 18 months. Therefore, you never know sometimes what you’ll do next. I had slightly more warning for Canada. My husband and I left for Mexico and I get a phone call in Mexico asking me ‘can you come to Canada?’ I flew straight from there and I was still wearing my flip flops. In that case I had 13 days notice. I don’t actually know what I’m doing next but I am excited about it. What’s important to me is to grow a business and to work with brilliant teams. That’s what it will involve. The upside for me is now I will get a chance to spend more time with my family. It’s been six years since I left the U.K. And, I’m really looking forward to it.

ITB: What will you be telling Rola Dagher about this job?

B.W.: We are lucky to have her. And, for her it’s an amazing role. The Cisco brand is very high in Canada. And, the people I’ve met externally they want Cisco to succeed. They want Cisco to do well and that’s what I would tell her. To understand this level of support. We are shifting to be more of a software and services company. But the goodwill is tremendous. The second thing I would tell her is the amazing team she’ll have here at Cisco Canada. I am very proud of this team we built here. It’s a more diverse team from when I arrived and I think she is inheriting an amazing team that want her to succeed as well.

ITB: What are your thoughts about Rola Dagher and the challenge she has ahead of her?

B.W.: This might be surprising but I’ve known Rola for more than two years. Rola reached out to me shortly after I arrived in the country and sent me a message via social media asking for a meeting. I liked the fact she complemented me on my shoes. She wanted to talk to a female in charge of a tech company and I agreed to meet her. So yeah, I’ve known Rola the whole time I was here. I spotted her potential and I pride myself on seeing the potential in people. She landed a big job at Dell EMC and I thought it was brilliant for her because it was giving her a platform to one day step into this role.

During her time in Canada, Wightman had a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

She was in here the other day and I made it a point to clear my office and leave out my chair for her. I said to her: ‘I want to see you sit in that chair and do an amazing job.’ Personally, the qualities I saw in Rola during the interview process is her energy and her inquisitive nature. And, I think that is important to have in the digital age. You have to ask questions and do your checking. The other thing I liked was she had an ability to build on statements instead of saying statements. Her self-awareness is high and her ability to actually take a strategy and break it down into component parts; then articulate it to others on the team and to the market both with customers and partners who are taking a digital journey is a big strength. She also knows how to execute. She talks the talk and walks the walk.

ITB: Did you enjoy your time in Canada or was it more of a challenge than you thought initially?

B.W.: The only reason might be Canada is fully in love with hockey. I tell you I did my best to like the sport. I do love baseball and basketball I love more; I really like the Raptors. But I struggle with hockey. I knew Canada was a beautiful country from my first flight coming into Canada. It was over the Rockies. I think I stopped in Edmonton or Regina. It was awe inspiring and beautiful. And, I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I think my metaphor here is Canadians are unassuming and then you get this awe inspiring visual. The country has an amazing capacity for kindness and people here strive to help others. They don’t think about it… they just do it. It’s part of your DNA. I will make sure that goes with me so we are at least as good as Canadians. The capacity to welcome diversity in the way it is welcoming in refugees in this country I will carry that too in my heart forever. The people I have met here also have the capacity to apologize over and over; that’s something else.

Wightman with Canadian MP Bardish Chagger and Cisco Americas leader Alison Gleason at the opening of the Toronto Innovation Centre

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of’s exit interview with the former Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman, where she talks about digital transformation, some of the difficult decisions she had to make, diversity and if she needs to re-invent herself.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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