Innovation

Cisco's Magic Man

David Meads
David Meads 2.jpg
Global powerhouses such as Cisco Systems are moving to the forefront of innovation and enterprise within business: Blue Chip catches up with highly respected Managing Director for operations in South Africa, David Meads.

This spirit of endeavour encapsulates that which Cisco South Africa aims to represent as Meads takes the South African interests of one of the world’s biggest technology companies into uncharted waters on a daily basis. 

Globally, Cisco has more than 60 000 employees and reported annual revenue of more than US$40 billion (an estimated R307 billion), with stocks listed on the world’s major stock exchanges. No pressure, then. 

The charismatic MD has been shaking things up since taking the top job in Johannesburg two years ago. Things are going so well that, based on independent research by the CRF Institute, Cisco Systems South Africa was certified as one of the best employers in South Africa for 2011 and 2012. This may have something to do with the kind of professionalism Meads brings to the table, after spending the last 20 years cutting his teeth on the world stage. 

So to what does he put down Cisco’s favourable growth and working conditions, and what are his first impressions of South Africa’s level of technological expertise?
The likable Meads told Blue Chip in an exclusive interview: “I’ve been based in South Africa for two years now, and was pleasantly surprised. I have admitted this to the team. 

“When I came down, South Africa was part of our emerging market business, and there is a tendency to think that emerging markets are not quite as well established. However, when I came down here, and looked at the quality of the staff, I found that the technical and commercial talent we have within the business is impressive. 

“The quality of our partner landscape, together with some of the solutions that we’ve been involved with delivering here in South Africa, are every bit as good as anywhere else in the world!” he stresses.

“The level of capability, talent and business maturity here in South Africa belies the emerging market label. South Africa is a bit of a conundrum because it is an emerging market in some ways, but quite an established market in others.”
Natural innovators

South Africans have an innate ability to innovate on the fly, which is beautifully encapsulated by the Afrikaans saying, “‘n boer maak ‘n plan”. Indeed, South African history is littered with people who made the best of a bad situation. This gives employers an innovation advantage in the workplace. 

Meads highlighted the benefits of innovation during the troubled times of isolation: “It’s the level of technical capability and innovation, to some extent, through conversations that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Through the apartheid era, when many multinationals were boycotting or leaving the country, I get a sense that South Africans felt that if we’re on our own, we have to do things for ourselves, and can be as good as anyone. 

“A lot of innovation started to happen within South Africa. That entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit is one of the things that really helped Cisco to be successful in South Africa.”

He added, “The other factor, which is common all over the world, is culture. We witness market transitions over the years, but the thing that has never changed is the core values that Cisco holds dear, which bonds people together. We all have similar core values and principles; it is all about the consumer, and helps everybody be successful.”

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