I was able to grab some time with Paula, so I could get to know just what makes her tick. I started by asking the obvious question: just who is Paula Dowdy?

Well, I am from California, however my mother is Swedish. I joined Cisco in 1996 as an Account Manager in Los Angeles and sold into many accounts across SP, Enterprise and Commercial. I moved to the UK 15 years ago to play a part in Cisco’s growth in Europe as we were starting to play a bigger role in our customers’ business journey. Of course I had no idea about the weather when I moved!

I have had the opportunity to have many roles at Cisco – as an Account Manager, Regional Sales Manager, Operations Director, VP and now SVP. I have worked in the US, Europe, and now am so very lucky to work with our teams in the emerging markets. I’ve also worked in different parts of the organization from Enterprise to Service Provider, through Strategic Planning to Services, which I joined around 5 years ago. As you can see, I am very keen on rotation – for me and my team. We grow and broaden our skills when we take on new challenges that stretch us – and trust me I’ve been stretched! Investing in our own and our teams’ talent is vital. Some of the most important decisions I make are about our capabilities and talent across the business in EMEAR.

During my lifetime I have witnessed huge changes in the technology landscape, especially in my time at Cisco – the rapid build out of IP infrastructures, the dot com boom of the late 90’s and subsequent bust. As an industry, we all went through some pain and adjustment – I think we all learn valuable lessons in not just the good times, but the tough ones too.”

Balancing home and work life is not an easy task. Paula is a mother of three children, a keen skier, tennis player, ‘pony club mother’ (which she claims to do poorly), and an ambassador for inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Paula certainly has her hands full. I was interested in understanding Paula’s plan – what was Paula here to achieve and what was the challenge for Services, going forward?

“Do I have a master plan? No, not at all! I have been ambitious and I think everyone at Cisco wants to grow and succeed. Cisco allows you to do that. It’s about the impact you can bring and personal satisfaction. Cisco every year gives me a great challenge. I like to run; I am always trying to solve problems in my head when running. I am solving problems every day, so I know I am in a job I care about passionately! Equally important to me is the power of strong teams. The first task you have in any role is to build the strongest, most diverse and dynamic team. I am very proud of what I have built here in EMEAR.

My strategy is to grow the Services business by being relevant and investing in our customers, delivering services that actually give a positive return in terms of business outcomes, associated customer growth and innovation. The evolving nature of our business means I am always envisaging what Cisco Services looks like in 3 – 5 years. Part of this centers around the important work where we included many of our stakeholders to support me in building this strategic plan.”

Like most companies, Cisco has made tough decisions throughout its history, consolidating regions, and more recently restructuring to become leaner and meaner. So what’s next?

“If you look at our services today, they are very different to where we were – I believe we are becoming more relevant to our customers, especially with Consulting, Operate and Remote Managed Services. The challenge we all have is anticipating and capturing market transitions so we are ready to help our customers and partners stay ahead. To use a motor-racing analogy that our Chairman and CEO John Chambers often uses: ‘You win if you can accelerate in the turns’.”

As a leader of such a large business, I asked Paula what advice she would give to people in the region. “EMEAR is so very diverse. You need to remain respectful, be adaptable, prepare, have deep humility, and above all listen. I sometimes get asked after I meet customers or visit a country: ‘Did you get what you wanted’ and I respond by saying ‘Did I bring any value and did we make progress with the customer?’ That’s my leadership premise – it’s not about being the leader, but how you can help and empathize, and above all bring value to the situation.”

And what does the future hold for Paula? “To be honest, I listen to my instincts – and I remain really passionate and enthusiastic about Cisco and Services and I believe we still have so much more to achieve. As a leader, if I am not excited about what I do, then I know it’s time to move on and I think that’s true of anyone in any role. There is still much more that I want to accomplish in Services and that is motivating me to keep pushing forwards.”

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