I hope you are enjoying the two-part exit interview with outgoing Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman. Looking at the Google Analytics data on this two-part Q&A and the breaking news story on Rola Dagher’s appointment, this content has definitely resonated with our audience.
Now Wightman is definitely a personality in the tech industry and that does help. Cisco is also a top-rated brand and that certainly contributes to the high readership numbers as well.
Having said that, I believe Wightman’s story and her tenure at Cisco Canada is so compelling because of how she integrated herself into the community. Her involvement was deep and widespread. Everywhere I went in this industry someone would ask about her or provide a comment about meeting her somewhere and how great the experience was. I think that’s what makes her story so fascinating to people.
So, I have more. There was one question I asked Wightman that I did not include in the two-part Q&A. Before you read the question, let me give you some background. Wightman was basically dropped into Canada. One day Nitin Kawale was the President of Cisco Canada and then the next day he was the President of Rogers Enterprise Solutions and Wightman was his replacement. It happened that fast. And Kawale’s departure was quite surprising because the Pan Am Games was coming up and he was about to host the channel world at the Cisco Partner Summit in Montreal. But throwing all that aside, Kawale was instrumental in getting government support for the building of the new Innovation Centre in downtown Toronto. The Cisco Innovation Centre would be one of four facilities dedicated to the Internet of Things in the world. That he ended up not seeing that through was surprising to most people in the tech community. But, I later learned that the Rogers opportunity was too good to pass up.
In comes Wightman and she does a spectacular job becoming the face of the Canadian subsidiary for Cisco, basically overnight. And she drives these three huge undertakings with very little warning or prep time.
Of course, she was backed up by a great team at Cisco Canada who had been working on these projects for years. But it got me to thinking: Wightman never had an opportunity to ease into the role. She never got her 100 days to learn about the operation and move forward from there.
So I asked her this question:
I couldn’t help but wonder about the timing of it all. If things would have been different if you came into the job without all the big high profile events such as the Partner Summit in Montreal, the Pam Am Games that Cisco sponsored and the opening of the Innovation Centre. You had to deal with all those major things from day one and it prevented you from getting comfortable and exploring the business and taking it from there?
And here is Wightman’s answer:
“I don’t think it made any difference. I was in Russia for 18 month and EMEA for two years and my strength is in turning around high growth situations and setting a landscape. What I’m good at is establishing sustained success. I can’t allow myself to be put in a box and it’s the same for the people at Cisco Canada. My value is being put in a situation and then changing that situation. So, when I came to Canada I was in my element with a million different things going on from day one.”
What Wightman said next sort of surprised me. She talked about finding her replacement before she stepping into the Cisco Canada offices for the first time:
“My job is to find the best person to replace me one day. I was looking for a successor for Cisco Canada and I did the same thing for Russia and in EMEA. I always thought about a succession plan. I would spend roughly 20 per cent of my time on a succession plan. It moved – gosh – to 40 per cent a year ago. You need to build those networks and get an understanding of those communities to truly find where your successor would come from.”
Now you know why Wightman was so involved in Canada’s tech community.
Wightman added that she leaves Canada with “no regrets.”
“As a leader you are only as good as your team. Leaving a better leader in place is always better for your legacy,” she told ITBusiness.ca.