Cisco Ireland head: ‘Modern work in the tech industry is controlled chaos’

14 Mar 2018

Paul Kavanagh, country manager, Cisco Systems Ireland. Image: Cisco

As we enter a new era of networking, Cisco’s Paul Kavanagh is keeping a keen eye on data, security and the cloud.

Paul Kavanagh is the country manager of Cisco Systems Ireland.

He left University College Dublin in 2003 with a degree in electronic engineering and a master’s in management science.

He interned as a software developer with Eir before moving to Ibec’s telecoms and tech division, working with industry and Government on broadband policy.

Kavanagh then pivoted to sales, with roles in Siemens and Nokia Siemens Networks before settling at Cisco.

Studying for a diploma in financial management and a degree in psychology along the way, his continual professional development has been in the area of leadership and communications.

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the country manager for Cisco in Ireland. This entails leading the Irish market operation as well as representing Cisco in our discussions with Government and with industry bodies such as Technology Ireland, Ibec etc.

My big passion is people and culture and so, much of my focus is on working with my team to make Cisco Ireland a great place to work. I strongly believe that by hiring, supporting and nurturing smart people that we can deliver great solutions to our customers and, in turn, our business will be successful. As well as leading a great team of people, I try to spend as much of my time as possible with customers and partners.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

It has definitely become increasingly difficult to feel like you have your work fully prioritised, organised and under control. Honestly, I think modern work, especially in the technology industry, is inevitably a form of controlled chaos.

My main priority is communications. Along with my leadership team, I try to invest time in selecting no more than three to five strategic priorities for each financial year and developing a succinct plan around these priorities. We then try to communicate it in an engaging and memorable way to our team, our customers and our partners.

We also work hard throughout the year to ensure any business activity aligns to these priorities. A level of pragmatism is required; we need to be agile and tweak things if we need to, but the intention is to keep some level of focus in what can be a turbulent environment.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The customers I meet most often tell me that the biggest challenges they face are around complexity, scale and security as they digitise their business. They are also facing hugely competitive environments for both customer and employee retention. The sheer volume and variety of devices connecting to the network is astounding.

Customers are also most often operating in a multi-cloud environment, navigating between private, public and hybrid clouds, often with multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. Combine that with an ever-increasing cyber threat, and these challenges have reached a critical level that legacy networks simply can’t deal with.

We are entering a new era of networking and we believe that the solution is intent-based networking. This new networking approach is designed to constantly learn, adapt, automate and protect, optimising network operations and defending against today’s evolving cyber-threat landscape.


Paul Kavanagh, country manager, Cisco Systems Ireland. Image: Cisco

What are the key sector opportunities youre capitalising on?

We think, in terms of solving customer challenges, if we can do that, we will be successful. In order to tackle these challenges, as outlined above, we are focusing our efforts in five areas:

  • reinventing networking
  • enabling a multi-cloud world
  • unlocking the power of data
  • enriching the employee and customer experience
  • deploying security everywhere

In all of these things, the network is the common denominator.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

My two big passions are technology and people. I recognised the first one early and so studied electronic engineering, and I think I was always going to end up working in the tech industry. It was probably only with the benefit of experience that I recognised the second passion and veered more towards leadership, culture and people than a technical role. I went back to college a couple of years ago to study psychology, which helped invigorate my interest in the fascinating area of human behaviour.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I make too many to pick just one! Every day is a learning experience and I just try to think empathetically and try to learn through feedback from others.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I’m lucky enough to work with a really genuine and decent group of people, who are smart, engaged and enthusiastic about their jobs. In general, I believe most people are engaged and enthusiastic, and the trick is to create a working environment that nurtures rather than dampens that enthusiasm. I try to be as authentic as possible, communicate as often and as transparently as possible, and just treat people with the respect they deserve. I don’t believe there is one leadership style or set of rules that can be universally applied, but I just try to ensure I am as conscious as I can be of any challenges people around me are facing and see how I can support them.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to be more inclusive?

Certainly, the technology industry is far from as diverse as it should be. Again, like most complex problems, there is no silver bullet. I think diversity in recruiting at senior levels is critical and I believe that in creating a natural cycle of diverse leadership and recruiting structures, issues of gender and diversity will eventually disappear. It requires constant measurement and debate, and must be at the forefront of all we do as a sector.

Obviously, encouraging diversity in those taking STEM courses is critical also. I was lucky enough to attend the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition this year, and the level of diversity in shortlisted entrants who exhibited in the RDS certainly gave me hope for the future.

Who is your role model and why?

I’m lucky to have a great family – two fantastic parents who gave me a great start in life, and a wonderful wife and two children.

As a leader, I couldn’t pick just one but I always admire and try to emulate, in my own small way, leaders who are smart, authentic, warm, communicate in a clear and engaging way, and excite you about the future. I would certainly include my own CEO, Chuck Robbins, in that category.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

In the area of leadership, I really found Multipliers by Liz Wiseman useful. I also really like Patrick Lencioni.

In technology, I found The Second Machine Age by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson a great summary of the influence technology is having on our economy, our society and our lives.

More broadly, I love psychology books, and anything by Oliver Sacks or Steven Pinker is worth a read.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I couldn’t do my job without the collaboration technologies that allow me to work with my team from anywhere at any time. I am a heavy user of Cisco Spark, which allows me to do voice and video calls from my phone, tablet, laptop or room system as well as message, share documents, photos, video, and generally collaborate and have fun with the team. Other apps I would use every day would be Twitter and Evernote.

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