You may think that remembering someone’s name is a small feat. But when you are an executive at a very large company like Cisco – that can be rather difficult. Irving Tan, however, mastered this skill. He never forgot my name, even as infrequent as I saw him, which just goes to prove what kind of leader he truly is.

Cisco is a global company found in many cities across the world, but we are headquartered in San Jose, California in the United States.  So, sometimes, when our leadership is promoted, it becomes time for us to “send them off to the mothership” and that is what recently happened here in Singapore as our Senior Vice President and Sales Leader of the Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) region, Irving Tan, made history by being appointed as the first Asian member of the Cisco Executive Leadership Team!

To celebrate, a Fireside Chat with Irving was held and hosted by Annella Heytens, our Vice President and HR Leader for APJC. What was Annella’s very first question? Well, it was the one we were ALL curious to find out, “Who will be your successor?” As the laughter inside the room quieted, Irving shared that he wasn’t quite sure who it would be yet, but that they were taking the succession plan very seriously and a broad search was underway. He was confident that we would find the right person to lead us, and who truly cared for our region.

As he beamed with pride, he shared that his key takeaway for the APJC region are our people and the degree of innovation we have. We have a nurturing, warm, and collegial culture and people truly do care about one another here.

Annella then asked Irving what he was most proud of, he paused and started to become quite emotional with tears in his eyes, his voice cracked just a bit. Annella joked that she was ready as she handed him the box of tissues that sat between them on the table, and Irving chuckled while trying to control his emotions.  He then went on to share that it was not so much about the business and results — but more in his hopes of being able to help many of us fulfill our career ambitions. He was proud to have helped create a culture within Cisco where our people come first, and where the company and its leadership team take care of their employees and their family’s needs. This pride also extended into the broader impact we can have on our local and global communities as well.

Irving’s honesty and openness really touched me and tears started to fall from my eyes as well. I looked around the room to see other Cisco employees wiping down their tears, and thought tissue boxes should have been logistically placed all throughout the room! I wasn’t expecting to cry, but this moment was so powerfully human – it was an honor just to share in that moment with everyone.

But the moving moments didn’t stop there, here’s a few others I noted that had a profound impact on me:

  1. What will Irving miss most about the APJC Region? He quickly answered, “The Diversity.” He believes the richness in our diversity is one of our region’s greatest strengths.
  2. What will Irving’s family’s move to the United States be like? When Annella started asking questions about Irving’s family and their move to the US – his face lit up as he told us that they found a perfect home – small and easy to clean and he also joked (with a grin on his face) that he doesn’t have to garden.  His family has mixed emotions about the move, understandably, but Irving happily shared how lucky he is to have a resourceful wife. The children will miss their grandparents most of all – but once or twice a year, Irving and his family will come back home to visit.
  3. He hopes to set a path for others in the APJC region to follow. Since Irving made history by becoming the first Asian member of Cisco’s Executive Leadership team, he hopes he won’t be the last. He gave his commitment that he will try his best to create more and more opportunities for all of us to follow in his footsteps and for us to seize that opportunity when it comes.
  4. What keeps Irving up at night? It is always about our people. He said that we need to continue to attract and develop the talent that we have here at Cisco and we need to continue to take care of our employees, their families and their livelihood. I also really liked his advice to new hires – he challenged them to go outside of their comfort zone and try to do new things, be open to new experience and take opportunities as they come to you.
  5. What is your expectation for your successor? I was so impressed with this answer from Irving. He said he wants his successor to be their own person. He can, of course, provide advice and counsel but he doesn’t want them to try and be him. They need to be comfortable on who they are and to do what is right for the company and for our people.

At the close of the Fireside Chat, Annella gave Irving a parting gift from us all – a piece of calligraphy artwork that means “everything will go as you wish” to hang in his new home or office.

She then asked Irving for one final, last message. His eyes filled with tears again (as did the audience’s) as he asked us to give our new leader the same support we had given him over the years. You could feel the honesty and humanity in the room, as we jumped to our feet to give Irving the first standing ovation. We then sat back down to watch a compilation video of photos taken during his time in APJC – another round of tears for us all as we cried happily together – and then another standing ovation.

What an ecstatic feeling, I thought!  You know he truly made a difference in other people’s lives!

Irving is truly an inspiration and a role model.  He is open and authentic which makes him quite popular, and we are lucky to have a great leader in him.  Yes, we may have lost a wonderful leader here in APJC, but we gained a great global leader and a champion for our region!

Irving is truly a reason I love working for Cisco. He has a big heart, and truly cares about the employees here – proof that executives are humans too. J Thank you, Irving, for making a huge difference with a simple act (like remembering someone’s name!) – It is these simple acts that have great impacts.

Want to work for a company that cares? We’re hiring. Apply Now.


Cris Ponce

APJ and GC Total Rewards and M&A Leader

Human Resources