“No one thought about going to sleep and waking up and the entire world would be working from home” — Rola Dagher, President and CEO of Cisco Canada

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
I’m Goldy Hyder, of the Business Council of Canada and this is Speaking of Business. Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting businesses across Canada and how leaders are responding. One re-occurring theme we’ve heard on this special podcast series is the importance of communication, communication, communication. As we work from home, we are relying more on new ways to meet and keep in touch. My guest today understands those challenges. As President of Cisco Systems Canada, Rola Dagher is witnessing firsthand what it means for so many people to adapt to working from home. Welcome to the podcast, Rola.

Rola Dagher:
Thank you Goldy. The last time I saw you face to face, it was on a panel. So welcome to the new world of doing this remotely. Really appreciate it.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, let’s jump into this, because you’re living it. Right? In Cisco, in your technology, we’re seeing it all across the world being used with G7 leaders and others in our cabinet and so forth. So why don’t we first start with just the exponential increase that’s likely happened in the use of video conferencing over the past few weeks. What sort of pressure has that put on your team to deliver the service?

Rola Dagher:
I can tell you that no one thought about going to sleep and waking up and the entire world will be working remotely from home, that’s for sure. I think it was a big shock for everybody but at Cisco we are absolutely blessed on so many levels, Goldy, because we’ve been actually working from home for the past 10, 15 years with the technology that we have. So when I say we’re blessed on so many levels because a lot of people don’t have that luxury. So the impact we’ve had internally is very minimal in order for us to transition. But I will tell you the increase that we’ve seen across the globe is insane. So I’ll just give you a little bit of stats. March alone, we saw 20 billion minutes used of video, just in March. We had over 15 million meetings done on a daily basis. And that’s just group meetings, not one-on-ones.

Goldy Hyder:
Wow.

Rola Dagher:
It’s been amazing. Chuck, our global CEO was just amazed how quickly we actually embraced and had every single customer up and running, in getting data centres up in New York and then in China in 24 hours, which is unheard of. So our people have been working around the clock globally, and specifically in Canada, to ensure that we’re keeping up with the demands and specifically the priorities of the frontline. Our CEO made it clear it’s not about who you know. The priority is always going to be around healthcare, around people that are on the frontline fighting the crisis. I will tell you what we’ve done with Webex in the last two months of offering organizations free access for three months and offering security and privacy on top of that. Because as you know, for us specifically, security and privacy are not negotiable, period, full stop. So it’s been crazy busy, but it’s been good on a lot out fronts and overwhelming hearing customers and how our team has helped them in so many ways to get them up and running.

Goldy Hyder:
Well look, part of what is being tested is not just the technology, but the infrastructure that supports the technology. We’ve been having a lot of discussions in Canada about 5G technology. You’re a global company. You’re seeing how your technology is being impacted by the infrastructure available to it in different parts of the world. What are you learning about Canada compared to other countries?

Rola Dagher:
We have to move a lot faster. The quickest thing I learned is every single organization that put technology and digital transformation at the back burner is actually a big wake up call for them to move it to the front. It is sad to see across Canada more than 59% of the rural households don’t even have access to the minimum internet access speed. So the government, the telcos organization need to step up to provide the basic because that is the new norm now, where technology is the foundation of every single crisis that we have. What we’ve seen right now is a test of how we could actually deal with real crisis when they hit us again.

Goldy Hyder:
So we’re all going to learn a lot from this. Now, speaking of learning, as you know, recently we at the Business Council, and others, have been planning and preparing for what we believe should be a responsible restart to the economy when the time is right and obviously guided by health advice. Again, as a global company and as a member of a global team, you will be hearing more from your colleagues where the virus has already had it’s run, where some economies have restarted. What are you learning from your conversations with your counterparts in terms of how to respond, simply start an economy again?

Rola Dagher:
So the biggest learning that we’ve had from our China, Korea and Singapore teams, and we’d been having multiple calls around flattening the cost of recovery, around best practices in how do we help re-integrate back. I think there’s a big fear right now of how do people integrate back into the workforce. The biggest thing that everybody’s focused on is stability. In the very unstable world right now we’ll all need the quality and the security and the privacy that is all around the data. It’s all around the technology, from secure wifi, secure collaboration and secure environment with a zero trust environment, period, full stop. Those are some of the things that we’re doing.

Rola Dagher:
I’ll tell you, I’ve been so impressed seeing we’ve put technology in virtual courtrooms and they’re sentencing people virtually. Virtual town halls. You’ve seen, you yourself have done a couple as well. At temporary hospitals and expansions that there have been actually set. It’s all around working together in united as one. Internally, for us at Cisco, it’s amazing how many of those walls have come down between business units to work together and they don’t care about the politics anymore. That’s what we need as countries to be united, work as one. In other countries as well to all work together as one approach, one goal towards protecting the citizen experience period.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s a very positive learning from this. I wish we had the time to unpack some of the things you’ve said about tele-health and tele-work and tele-learning and hopefully we’ll have you back someday to talk further about that. I want to ask you two wrap up questions if I can. The first is, and I know how passionate you are about community and community service and doing the right thing. There’s no question you must be doing a lot right now about the response to COVID-19. What is Cisco specifically doing and what are Cisco employees doing to support the community these days?

Rola Dagher:
I love this question and I was hoping you will ask it, Goldy, because you know it’s in our DNA specifically around what we’re doing globally. So our CEO Chuck Robbins announced $225 million in cash and in-kind contributions to give back and to fight back in every single country. We just announced two $2.5 billion of financing to allow customers and partners payment defer to January 2021. In Canada, it’s perfect timing. It’s not public yet, but I just finalized almost $400,000 of giving back to Kids Help Phone and CAMH. The entire technology across the board for mental health has been provided all by Cisco at no cost. Food bank, just donated to Food Bank as well, in 10 shelters across the country, is all being donated. Almost half a million dollars we just donated in the last 24 hours to all of that.

Rola Dagher:
Mental health has been huge. As you know, the prime minister assigned $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone. I know it’s not enough and other premiers are putting in. I could tell you 11 million calls came in, in the last few weeks just for support on mental health. Personally at Cisco, our employees are 3D printing masks and mask holders. We’ve got all of our units in our desks, in the office being cleaned and sanitized right now as we speak, and we call them the DX units, which is the collaboration units. They’re being donated to hospitals, doctors, and senior homes because those seniors are absolutely so impacted by not being able to see their families.

Rola Dagher:
My favourite is we had couple of students in Halifax from India, that have nobody here and they got stuck. They couldn’t get back home. One of our leaders from India, their cousins reached out and said, “Can you please help my kid in Halifax at Dalhousie because he has no food and he’s been sick.” Our Halifax local team put a package together for him with sanitizers and wipes and food and everything for two months and dropped it off at the university. That is the heart and the soul at Cisco, as leadership is all about leading with your soul, mind, and heart because it’s all about giving back.

Goldy Hyder:
Terrific. Well look, if you can sneak in a quick answer on this question, that would be great. Because I want people to hear what you have learned, how you have changed as a result of this crisis as a leader.

Rola Dagher:
I have to tell you, the silver lining for me is feeling blessed and appreciate what we have today. As you know my story, I come from a war zone where most of my youth is in a bomb shelter. When I heard my kids actually complain, I told them that this is a luxury bomb shelter. It’s amazing how much the past few weeks had made me appreciate how blessed we are as Canadians, to have what we have and be in a safe environment and knowing that the most precious thing to you is your family, and really waking up and appreciating the impact that you can make and the purpose you have in life to help others. Because to me, great leaders are the one that lead in difficult time, not just in good times.

Rola Dagher:
It’s all about right now, our focus to be on how do we integrate people back and how do we lead with empathy. It’s not about, oh, you got annoyed because a kid walked into a room while your employees are talking. The pressure that people are under, the employees are juggling as parents, homeschooling and cooking and the work and the balance. Have that human touch and be grateful. Lead with calmness, lead with appreciation and allow people do what makes them feel good, to continue to go out there and make an impact on the world.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, thank you for being a great leader, Rola, and thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Rola Dagher:
Thank you, Goldy. And good luck, as I know how much work you and your team have been doing to help us as leaders in the community.

Goldy Hyder:
Rola Dagher is President of Cisco Systems Canada. If you would like to hear more of these special Speaking of Business conversations about the COVID-19 crisis, you can find them all wherever you get your podcasts or simply go to our website, SpeakingOfBiz.ca, that’s biz with a zed. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

Rola Dagher, President and CEO of Cisco Canada, discusses the rapid increase in demand for technology to work from home, how Cisco is giving back to the community, and what she is learning as a leader through the COVID-19 crisis.

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