A Conversation With A Warrior: Cisco's New CTO

Formerly with Motorola, Padmasree Warrior now looks to the next phase of the Internet's evolution and how she plans to help lead Cisco into the new era.

Richard Martin, Contributor

December 7, 2007

6 Min Read

Sometimes referred to as a "geek queen," 47-year-old Padmasree Warrior won one of the most highly prized geek jobs in the world this week when she was named CTO at Cisco. She comes to the networking giant from Motorola, where her departure came days after embattled CEO Ed Zander said he was stepping down. Warrior's arrival means that Cisco now has females in both the CTO and CIO positions. She spoke to InformationWeek Editor at Large Richard Martin about the next phase of the Internet's evolution and how she plans to help lead Cisco into the new era.

InformationWeek: It seems you've jumped from a sinking ship to the deck of a passing cruise liner.

Warrior: Motorola is a great company, with a talented and dedicated employee base and a lot of prowess and depth and breadth in technologies. In my most recent position there, I led a significant portion of the technology and the engineers, and I wish them all success. My primary reason for making this move at this time has more to do with where I am in my career, and where and how I want to spend the next several years of my career.

Cisco is a company I've long admired, and I think it's positioned to lead for the next several decades in technological evolution.

InformationWeek: What did John Chambers say to you to make you want to take this job?

Warrior: I knew John, and some of his management team, from before. ... John is somebody I consider a true leader in the tech industry, if you look at his track record, and what he's done with the company, he's grown it to a very significant, successful position. What's characteristic about Cisco is the culture it has, it's very customer centric.

What's striking about John Chambers and his management team, and the entire workforce, is their commitment to being a technology leader -- they have an almost unwavering focus on innovation. His vision, where he sees the company going forward in the second phase of the Internet's evolution, is aligned with my passion and my interest, in creating solutions for the next wave of opportunities in this space. I've been consistent in speaking about Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies, and the significant role they will play in the consumer and enterprise space. Our vision is very much aligned in terms of where he's taking the company and the areas I'm interested in working in.

InformationWeek: This position has been unfilled for two years. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage for you coming in?

Warrior: I believe I will be the fourth CTO Cisco has had, it has been vacant since Charlie Giancarlo moved over two years ago [to become chief development officer in 2005].

I see it as an opportunity. A role like the CTO is less about defining what your position does and delivers, and more about setting a vision for the company, working with customers to define new technology directions and identify new business opportunities. It's a role that'll work in partnership with many of John's team, particularly the chief development office and the product development organization.

InformationWeek: What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for you and for the company?

Warrior: Cisco defined the network in many ways, and has shown itself able to catch market transitions at the right time -- that's a big strength of theirs, to be able to see where the market is heading. Convergence is an overused word, but this larger shift from vertical stovepipes in IT toward a much more horizontal model is the biggest change happening now. Whether it's video, voice, or data, in the future those will all be on the same platform and it'll be much more horizontal.

Cisco is well-positioned in a lot of its capabilities -- not only the technology they possess but in the realm of business-model transformations and identifying them early on. You may have the technological depth, but if you don’t know how to implement the business model changes the technology tends to sit on the shelf. Cisco has a great track record of catching the market innovations and business-model transformations.

Cisco is poised to lead the next set of innovations on the Internet, using collaboration as a solution not just for the enterprise but into the consumer space as well.

InformationWeek: How do you, coming from Motorola into the CTO office as a big enterprise-focused company, go about enabling that shift toward the consumer side?

Warrior: I think there are several similarities between the enterprise and the consumer sides depending on the solutions you provide -- if you think about the more collaborative and network-oriented solutions, the intelligence and the smarts you have to put into the network are going to be similar to enable those, whichever space you're in.

The big difference is that the adoption of technology in the consumer space is on a much faster cycle, especially in consumer electronics. What I can bring is time to market and speed of execution. Cisco has always been an entrepreneurial company, so it's not such a difficult transition to make.

InformationWeek: Some would say that Cisco as a networking company is simply trying to avoid becoming commoditized.

Warrior: It depends on how it's executed. I'm not sure anybody knows the exact answer yet. The consumer companies are trying to get into the networking space because they're afraid they will become commoditized. Service providers and applications providers are trying to get into hardware, because they see more value in providing an end to end solution and they need to have a platform to deliver to. The network companies are moving up into applications and solutions. I don’t think the challenge that Cisco faces is unique, it's just the dynamic where the industry is evolving.

InformationWeek: John Chambers has made some fairly strong proclamations about collaboration and telepresence being the next big market shift, transforming business models, and so on. Aren't these really just advanced tools to allow companies to do more efficiently things they're already doing?

Warrior: The way I see it, the Internet is nothing but a tool that allows the open transfer of communications and information. But it has evolved to enable so many different things in terms of commerce, entertainment, relationships, information-sharing and so on.

So we've seen that a simple tool can lead to major transformations in industry and society -- it's not uncommon for a tool to do that. Collaboration is another tool that allows connectivity to occur quicker and in more dynamic ways -- that's where social networking comes up . I see that as a major transition -- how quickly that will happen will depend on how the phased delivery of solutions and applications plays out.

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