Executives. They are the celebrities of the business world. Some of them have specific, personal self-brands that they have worked on. They are known to be smart. Some charismatic. Some serious and some perhaps scary. Some rarely show up publicly and prefer to be background players.
I am lucky enough to work directly with our CEO, Chuck Robbins, and our former CEO and current Executive Chairman of the Board, John Chambers. They are celebrities not only in the tech world, but with employees at Cisco. It’s humbling to be working with them and seeing other Cisco employees’ delight at just catching a glance of these tech titans. Many ‘Cisconians,’ and Cisco tour guests, stop to take photos with Chuck or John. (Not sure who’s more excited to do it, the execs or the employees/guests.)
Many may think that executives are too busy to talk, that they are always in their office or in meetings, that they are some type of superhuman that doesn’t have the time or the interest to talk to ‘normal people’ like us.
Doing communications for Cisco’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT), I’ve learned that is far from the truth. Yes. It is true that many times they are too busy and preoccupied to talk. Yes. They do have a lot of important tasks on their plate. But, they all go to sleep every night – okay, maybe not every night. They are busy. They have lunch. They laugh. They cry. I’ve seen it. But not once have they ever made me feel unimportant.
The first time I worked with Chuck – he was very pleasant, he at least knew my name by the third time we worked together (Cisco has 70K+ employees, that’s a lot of names to recall.) Now, we greet each other in the hallway, I give him a wave sometimes when I walk by his office, I’m close to his admins and his communications managers and I see that they treat each other like family. They work well together, they have tough discussions, and they playfully poke fun at each other. The team has such a natural and pleasant culture.
On my second day at Cisco, as a contractor, three minutes before the company meeting kicked off, John walked up to me, as I sat third row in the center, and said, “Hey, I love the bow tie!” And that sparked up a minute-long conversation about how I spent hours sweating, watching YouTube videos while learning how to tie it. I joked with him, “I learned how to tie it just for you!”
This summer, I had the opportunity to work with both of them again on a fantastic project. John was challenged by the Warrior’s Steph Curry to “Call Your Shot” and film a short basketball video to help raise money to battle malaria. John took on the challenge, because that’s the kind of guy he is, and of course, challenged Chuck.
Filming Chuck out on the basketball court in San Jose’s building Q was like seeing a kid in a candy store – a big kid with a really solid jumper. I would’ve challenged him to a quick game of one-on-one, but I hate losing. He spent about 15 minutes warming up, but he complained that his dress shirt was impeding his ability to shoot. Any non-basketball player would’ve called him out for making an excuse. Only, he wasn’t missing. And dress shirts do get in the way! He ended up in a tee-shirt so he was able to unleash his full talent.
So, with the camera on, I asked Chuck, “Show us your handles. You got any handles, man? Like a crossover?” He went into a couple quick dribble moves, and crossover, then he just decided to shoot a step-back three-pointer. And sheesh! He swished it. The Gym staff, Chuck’s communications manager, Katy and I went crazy. Chuck walked away and said “That’s it. That’s the one.”
It’s true – sometimes our executives show up to meetings or events, and have to leave right at the top of the hour to make it to their next obligation. But, Chuck spent the next 10 minutes talking to the six gym staff members about his days playing for UNC and how his body doesn’t allow him to play basketball anymore. They laughed and had a good time, and he shook each of their hands and thanked them before he left.
When I filmed John’s #CallYourShot video, he spent about 10 minutes practicing a regular jump shot, well, ‘sit shot’ from his desk before we even began shooting. But for some reason, the very first take we did, he shot a hook shot and swished it. That’s it. One take. I thought to myself, “My goodness. He is perfect under pressure.”
I told John I’d have his video fully edited in an hour. But I only took about 25 minutes to edit it. When I brought it over to show him, he loved it, and sincerely thanked me. Can’t say I didn’t blush to have John Chambers thank me for my work. I planted myself at a desk right outside his office as I exported and uploaded the video. About 10 minutes later, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there was John! He smiled and said, “Seriously, thank you. Great job on the video.” And few minutes later, I woke up on the floor – I guess I fainted.
I’m kidding about the fainting.
In no way do I mean to boast about the crazy luck I’ve come by – but I wanted to paint a picture about how human and how awesome our two leading executives are. John and Chuck are not only class acts, but they are good people. Oh yeah. And they can hoop! And trust me that our entire executive leadership team is just as cool, with different personalities, of course. Not sure about their jump shots.