Leaders’ Insights: Adam Grennan, Cisco

3 Dec 2015

Adam Grennan, Cisco

Adam Grennan is the country manager for Cisco in Ireland.

Grennan had a rather unusual start to his 30-year career in the tech industry, originally training as a radio officer with the Navy.

He joined Cisco in 2005, taking up his current role in 2012, and has also worked at Avaya and Nixdorf Computer.

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead the sales and partner operation for Cisco in Ireland while working closely with all other functions such as the Cisco R&D centre in Galway and the Cisco Capital operation in Dublin. I’m also a member of the Cisco UK & Ireland (UKI) Operations Board, which oversees sales strategy. Outside of Cisco, I’m a Director of Fast Track to Information Technology (FIT) – a not-for-profit organisation focused on helping people without work get a job in ICT. I also work with some industry representative groups such as the ICT Governing Council at IBEC. After 30 years working in the tech industry, it’s a privilege to be in a position to help influence the future of the sector in Ireland.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

If the truth be known I’m not great at it. While variety in the workplace is always welcome, the volume of work I have to deal with can sometimes be a little overwhelming. I’ve come to rely quite heavily on technology to make the organisational side of things easier. Working for Cisco certainly has its advantages. We manufacture solutions that make collaboration easier: solutions like Webex, Spark and TelePresence. I try to keep my weekends free for family and friends and, whatever happens, I always insist on unplugging at least one day each week for a much needed ‘digital detox’.

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

Change is an everyday occurrence in our industry. It’s always been that way. However, what’s different now is that the rate of change is picking up. Maintaining a leading position in any industry – particularly the ICT industry – is like running a marathon. It’s not the distance that kills – it’s the pace, and the winners will be the companies who share a vision, build trust and help solve their customers’ biggest challenges. That sounds grandiose but it is the truth. The biggest challenge facing all of us – vendors, partners and customers – is how we can capitalise on the relentless march towards digitisation.

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?

I believe that Cisco in Ireland is uniquely positioned to capture the digitisation wave that is threatening to disrupt every business. Together with our partners, we work across all the elements that matter deeply to our customers: IoT, analytics, collaboration, security and the data centre – the very heart of any solution. When you boil it right down, the essence of what we do is connect people, processes, data and things. Nothing works unless it is connected and we’ve been doing just that for over 30 years.

‘I always insist on unplugging at least one day each week for a much needed “digital detox”’

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

I’m not sure if it was a road so much as a shipping lane. As a child I always wanted to be a sailor. My uncle enthralled me with stories of his time in the Navy during World War II and I thought ‘that’s what I want’. Unfortunately, my parents were less keen on the idea. They wanted me to have a trade instead. They sensed how determined I was, so we compromised. I trained to be a radio officer in the Merchant Navy, which gave me a good understanding of basic engineering and fault-finding principles. That was the first rung on the ladder that led to a 30-year career in the tech industry that has taken me to some of the biggest companies in the business and, ultimately, to Cisco. It was an unusual path to take, but an enjoyable one, most of which I put down to the wonderful colleagues I have met and worked with along the way.

‘I trained to be a radio officer in the Merchant Navy’

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

As you move up in any organisation you quickly realise that instead of having less work to do you often, in fact, have more. To avoid being completely swamped you have to learn to delegate and that was where I became unstuck. I would often carry forward what I did in my last job into the next one, the net effect of which was twofold: I just couldn’t get to everything I had to do and the person who stepped into my previous role felt disempowered. The odd thing is that I thought I was helping but in reality I was doing the opposite. Things that needed to be done were falling by the wayside and I had a bunch of disillusioned staff below me. So, the lesson I learnt was that no matter how hard it might seem, there are times when I simply need to let go. I’m eternally grateful to the member of my team who took me aside to point this out to me.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I think my management style has evolved quite a bit over the years. At times in the past I felt the need to be more direct with colleagues. These days, I place far more of an emphasis on creating a trusted and collaborative environment that allows people to take ownership of their role. You could say that I see my responsibility as helping people find their own voice and driving the ambition of what I believe we can achieve as a group. Once the direction is set, I strongly believe that my job often involves getting out of their way and offering support when it’s really needed.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

I think it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to do their bit to demonstrate the value of science, technology, engineering and maths at all levels of education for both boys and girls. We have to look at the root causes of the issue, which begins in early life and continues through second and third-level education and into the workplace. When you approach the problem from this perspective, a collaborative approach between Government, educators and industry is really the only option.

Who is your business hero and why?

A number of people have influenced me down through the years. Usually they were people who have had a quiet word, or said the right thing at the right time. None of them would be world famous, nor would they be well known to many as industry leaders. As a child we’re all influenced by our parents. At work, it is often in the early years that you are most open to influence. The first ICT company I joined was Nixdorf Computer in 1985. I spent 13 years there – longer than any other organisation. One of the first people I met was Declan O’Curry, the engineering lead and my manager for much of my time in the company. He was quiet and unassuming but intensely practical and fiercely loyal to the team about him. I learnt many lessons from Declan. One of the first was when he reminded me that the most important things was to put people first: “While it is true that you work for a technology company don’t ever forget that, irrespective of your role, 80pc of your time will be spent working with people.”

‘The lesson I learnt was that, no matter how hard it might seem, there are times when I simply need to let go’

What books have you read that you would recommend?

This is a hard question because I’m an avid reader of all manner of things. However, three books I often come back to are Time to Think by Nancy Klein, How to Lead by Jo Owen and, although a little dated, The Empty Raincoat by Charles Handy.

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

Collaborative tools like Jabber, Spark, Webex and TelePresence are core to my day. I think it is essential for anyone involved in business to have the facility to communicate and access the information they need irrespective of where they might be in the world. I would find my job really difficult if it wasn’t for tools such as these.