Rola Dagher the President of Cisco Systems Canada, shares with CanadianSME her top advice on how Cisco can help entrepreneurs grow their businesses with specific tools that she recommends. As well as the best advice she received that helped her in her professional career.
Describing herself as a proud Lebanese and grateful Canadian, Cisco Canada’s President Rola Dagher appreciates every part of her journey – the journey that led her to Canada and provided her with every opportunity to make something of herself.
Dagher began her career in technology 30 years ago and her focus on customers, people and leadership continue to define the leader she is today – a servant leader. She believes that to serve your customers you need to serve your people, the common denominator for success. This is what drew her to Cisco in 2017; the unyielding focus on customers, the culture of putting people first and the engrained values of giving back. And, at the heart of all this is technology – the foundation for all that we do, the catalyst for economic development in Canada and the driver of human progress.
At Cisco Canada, Dagher’s focus starts and ends with creating the best place to work for employees. She truly believes that in the digital age an empowered, inspired, the inclusive, diverse and adaptable workforce is fundamental to any company’s success. She also believes that through the power of technology, we can build a bridge between hope and possibility in Canada and in the world.
Cisco Canada has built a reputation of having some of the most advanced and innovative technologies within the country. Can you tell us about some of the strategies you use that keep Cisco innovative in the business industry?
Cisco has a long history of innovation in Canada. In addition to having R&D offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Kanata and Montreal, we also encourage our employees to explore how they can innovate internally, which has lead to several successful technology patents in security, AI, collaboration technologies, and software-defined networking.
We also invest in startups through the Cisco Canada Innovation Program, where we work with entrepreneurs – which includes helping them uncover new opportunities, direct investment and mentorship – to develop and innovate new technologies. We’ve also made significant investments in academic research programs with Canadian universities developing new technologies in 5G, IoT, AR/VR and data analytics.
Another key aspect that keeps us innovative is the work we do with our partners – harnessing the best of their expertise and capabilities around industry solutions and combining it with our own knowledge and networks.
All of this really comes together in our Cisco Innovation Centre, which brings customers, partners, entrepreneurs and academics together to create, test and refine leading-edge technologies.
Cisco is known worldwide as being the leader in IT and networking solutions. Why do you believe that is?
For more than 20 years, we’ve been the trusted IT partner for customers all over the world, and we truly believe the secret to this success has been our boldness to disrupt not only the industry but ourselves.
The network is the foundation of any IT system, and today it needs to be more intelligent than ever. While other large IT companies have struggled to adapt to major technology shifts, we’ve not only embraced it at Cisco, we’ve pioneered many of these disruptions, from intelligent wireless systems – Wi-Fi6 and 5G, SDN, multi-cloud, next-generation data center systems – to the use of AI in nearly all aspects of computer networking.
Cisco has spearheaded the digital transformation journeys of our customers, unleashing the power of the network and the internet to evolve how companies do business.
How can Cisco help entrepreneurs grow their business? What tools and resources does Cisco provide that business owners benefit from?
We built our small business tech portfolio with the needs of today’s entrepreneurs at the core: simple, reliable, secure and affordable technologies that just work. This includes cloud-based networking, voice and video meeting platforms, and cloud-based security solutions that transform how businesses connect, communicate and collaborate.
Because all of these products are hosted in the cloud, our customers incur a low, monthly subscription cost that’s more manageable for most small businesses to maintain, as opposed to paying for everything upfront. These drive competitive differentiators, like enhanced customer experience, increased productivity and less employee downtime.
To make it easier for businesses to innovate and budget at the same time, we also offer the Cisco Easy Pay program, which lets business owners bundle together hardware, software, and services into a single, fixed monthly payment, with three-year 0 percent financing.
We also offer a robust online community, connecting entrepreneurs directly with our product team and peer experts. The Cisco Customer Connection gives business owners the opportunity to discuss product road maps, influence product direction, participate in early adopter trials, get advice and share expertise around Cisco technologies.
Cisco offers a wide range of products for business owners. What would you say is your most popular product for small business owners?
Small business owners want a solution that’s easy to deploy and manage, so they can free up more time to focus on their customers, innovation, and growth.
We have several solutions that are popular for entrepreneurs, including Meraki, our cloud-based tech portfolio for networking; Umbrella for simple security; and WebEx for collaboration. We’re helping small business owners overcome many of their traditional IT hurdles, all within a best-in-class secure environment.
Companies are now investing in security measures to protect their data and customer information. What can you tell us about some of the IT security solutions that Cisco provides to businesses to protect them from fraud and privacy risks?
Our focus is on providing our clients with solutions that protect their data from source to destination.
We know for cybercriminals, privileged information (like customer and corporate data) is the digital currency they’re most interested in exploiting, which is why we’ve put our efforts into developing an integrated security portfolio focused on preventing fraud where it happens: email, the cloud and through unsecured endpoints (this could be any device, like a laptop or phone, that connects to your network – even remotely). Our solutions protect against attacks and malware that can lead to data loss and device manipulation.
Most importantly, the entire portfolio is underpinned by Cisco Talos; the industry’s most advanced threat intelligence organization, which blocks over 20 billion threats a day. Our Talos team protects people, data, and infrastructure from existing and developing threats.
You have over 25 years of experience in the technology industry. In your expert opinion, what have been the most innovative discoveries in the tech industry that has revolutionized the business industry?
Technology has moved from being a cost-center to a disruptor that has facilitated human progress.
We see this in how it has revolutionized the healthcare sector, breaking down barriers and improving patient outcomes. There are facial recognition apps to help better diagnose mental illnesses and innovations to improve heart transplantation procedures – including better tissue matching and expanding the distance a donor heart can travel – by using technology-enabled iceboxes to monitor and keep the donor heart beating.
Technology is a bridge that has enabled us to collaborate and connect with people across the world, leading to new innovations that can change our world for the better.
How do you believe your previous experience has prepared you for your current role as President of Cisco Canada?
I’ve had responsibilities in sales for most of my career – working with small business, and across the public and the private sectors. It’s helped me identify where there are opportunities for growth and disruption, as well as how to be a better leader when it comes to driving growth in challenging environments.
I’ve also learned the importance of emotional intelligence and understanding how to be in customers’ shoes, which has helped me to not just be a salesperson, but a trusted business advisor.
You’ve built quite a reputation as a sales leader through your great leadership skills. What are some of the strategies you refer to when it comes to leading a team to be successful?
Diversity of thought doesn’t often get discussed when talking about building a successful team, yet I consider it to be the foundation of an innovative and adaptable workforce.
This means I’m going to look at more than just a person’s education. Emotional intelligence and adaptability are just as important as someone’s IQ. They’re the intrinsic qualities that inform who you are, how you approach challenges and people – and success relies on your ability to adapt to change and connect with people.
Degrees are important, but they’re part of a larger equation. Willingness, hunger, drive, determination and adaptability are the qualities that really give people and team a competitive edge.
On a final note, what was the best advice you received in your professional career that contributed towards your professional growth?
I’ve received a lot of good advice over the years: Don’t take anything personally. Follow through on every commitment that you make. Be impeccable with your words. Don’t make assumptions. But the piece of advice that’s really stuck with me has been to always be you, everyone else is taken. It’s a lot easier to grow and be successful when you are your most authentic and genuine self.