Name: Cathy Smith
Designation: General Manager
Company: Cisco, South Africa
What do you do every day? I lead and run Cisco’s business in South Africa. I manage a diverse team of over 200 employees who have differing backgrounds and a wide range of technical and non-technical expertise – from engineers, systems analysts, sales leaders, human resources to marketing and legal counsel. My day to day engagements will vary according to the needs of the business. Sometimes I will devote my day to visiting government officials, customers and partners and other times my focus will be on internal meetings involving members of my team.
I also travel extensively both within and outside of South Africa to attend and often participate in both Cisco and industry events. It is important for the role that I do that I network extensively in order to remain close to our customers and our partner network. I am responsible for engaging with public and private sector organisations to work on strategies for digital transformation, thereby helping them transform their IT strategies, connect everything, embrace analytics, and secure their technology and operations.
Outside of work my family and friends are a big focus for me and Friday evenings, for example, are often dedicated to having dinner with friends. From a wellbeing perspective, I try to do a Pilates class twice a week as I really do feel strongly about taking care of my mental, spiritual as well as my physical being.
How did you get into the tech space?
I ventured into the technology space purely by coincidence – what I call a stroke of good luck because I was in the right place at the right time and I happy and proud to say that I have never looked back. I started my working life in the insurance sector as an applications developer and was very fortunate to work in a number of roles that helped grow my experience. Prior to joining Cisco, I worked at IBM for more than 23 years, where I held various leadership roles in IT service delivery, HR and sales.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? Have dreams and aspirations by all means and always strive to achieve them but also be prepared to be flexible and willing to adapt because as we grow we change. Our goals may expand and our career paths may take us into directions we never even thought of and could well end up being completely life changing, but for the better.
What advice would you given someone wanting to get into the tech sector? When the IT industry started in South Africa, it was considered very unattractive to women simply because it was viewed as involving a lot of physical work as well as shift work and for this reason many women shied away from seeking roles in technology. This perception is so misleading in today’s South Africa and I would encourage young women, especially, to be open-minded, ask questions and take the time to really understand what a career in IT really involves. As technology has become more and more commoditised, the skill level required is focused on providing value and service to customers as well as solutions.
Today, those who work in technology need to understand the ever-changing needs of the customers and adapt in an environment that is growing and evolving at a phenomenal pace. They need to fully comprehend business and people and the challenges that need to be addressed. To work in technology today, a candidate can come from practically any background or discipline – collaboration, developing insight and being able to adapt is key to building trust and delivering the best possible solutions that meet customer needs.
What motivates you to get out of bed every day?
I thoroughly enjoy what I do and I am passionate to succeed for both myself but more importantly for my family. I fully understand that I also have great responsibility to be a role model to young women in South Africa who would like to succeed within a leadership role as I have done. I am a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative (ALI), an organisation set up to develop the next generation of ‘values’ based African leaders who are capable of guiding and leading their countries as they struggle to align the demands of globalisation with local visions of ‘a good society’.
Who did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a financial analyst but interestingly enough my class mates at school thought I would become City Mayor!