I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and had not traveled much. So, the first year I was at college, I marveled at how different everything was back East. It was a whole new culture for me, where I learned about bagels and lox, lacrosse, bare trees that looked beautiful after freshly fallen snow.
Celebrating cultural diversity is a passion for Kimberly Marcelis, vice president for Planning and Operations at Cisco Systems. With her unique ability to build effective cross-functional teams and to steer stakeholders through key decisions, Marcelis has been the driving force behind many of Cisco’s productivity efforts.
When she became the co-executive sponsor of Cisco’s Asian Affinity Network two years ago, for example, Marcelis noticed under-representation of leaders of Pacific Rim descent. So, she became intimately involved in an organizational initiative called Pacific Rim Talent, working countless hours to ensure the success of the pilot program. Her groundbreaking approach produced extraordinary results, validated by the fact that 20% of the pilot- group personnel were promoted to the next level. Innovations she came up with along the way are now being used as a best-practice approach for other affinity groups within Cisco.
Marcelis also developed a Six Sigma Black Belt network that became an enterprise-wide resource, and she established her company’s Enterprise Process Framework and the OPS strategic-planning processes. Those two critical accomplishments laid the foundation for Cisco’s future growth.
But when asked what inspired her remarkable success, she often cites a poignant and profound failure.
“I watched my parents’ business fail,” she recalls. “For 40 years, they epitomized the middle-class-immigrant success story. They came to the United States with only a high school education when they were 18 years old, worked hard, saved every penny, and went from working in a grocery store to owning one.” Marcelis says they selected their home location based on securing the best possible public education for their children, too, but had to fight discrimination to even purchase the house in that particular neighborhood.
“While our family didn’t eat out often,” Marcelis recalls, “my parents saved enough money to take us to Disneyland every year and pay for college for their first two children.”
Eventually they were running three Chinese restaurants in shopping malls. But then the recession hit in the early 1990s. They used all of their retirement savings to keep the restaurants going, but, finally, they had to close all three. With no income and no savings, they turned to their children. The family pooled its resources, started a new business, and strengthened its bond. But Marcelis says the experience also made her “brutally aware” that working extremely hard isn’t always enough. “You always have the choice to cry or smile and move on,” she says. “I prefer to smile and move on.”
Sandra Hoffman, Cisco’s Senior Director of Operations, nominated Marcelis for the Eagle Award because of that amazing positive attitude, even in the face of difficulty. ““Kim comes to work with the most profound and infectious ‘Anything Is Possible’ and ‘I Can’ attitude that I have ever encountered,” Hoffman says.
“Fundamentally, I believe you can lead at an executive level only if your personal values and business leadership styles are aligned,” Marcelis explains. “You will always need help. Help others, and you’ll receive help when you need it. Everyone can contribute if you truly listen to them.”
CareerFOCUS Magazine and the National Eagle Leadership Institute® salute 2011 Eagle Award winner Kimberly Marcelis.
The Leadership Promise at Cisco
Cisco has a unique organizational structure and a strong collaborative- leadership framework that allow it to deliver integrated solutions to its customers and help accelerate market growth. Teams come together cross-functionally, often virtually, and rely heavily upon diversity and inclusion for better decision making.
Cisco’s leadership-development programs support this collaborative- leadership framework by transforming our leaders so that they, in turn, can transform our business. Customized programs have been created to strengthen leadership capabilities, which we define as collaborate, learn, execute, accelerate, and disrupt (C-LEAD):
- • Customized Executive Assessment and Development
- • Executive Action Learning Forum — signature executive development program
- • Cisco Center for Collaborative Leadership (C3) Leadership Channel — Virtual, collaborative “brains on
- • CEO Forum — Customized Executive Leadership Program for highest potential leaders
These programs and our culture of inclusion are helping develop our leaders for the future.