“When you start to look at digital access against the backdrop of policy and then the engagement of your people, it allows us to be incredibly strategic.”
When Fran Katsoudas applied for a job at Cisco 27 years ago, she showed up to the wrong interview. Instead of the training job she’d applied for, she found herself being interviewed for a technical support role. “I told the hiring manager that I would learn the technology,” said Katsoudas. “That was at a point where the growth was unbelievable.”
Indeed, with the rapid expansion of internet adoption, the one-time router company was on track to become the most valuable company on earth—with a market cap exceeding that of Microsoft, worth more than $500 billion by March of 2020.
Then came the dot-com bust and Katsoudas, who had moved on to doing acquisition integration at the time, pivoted to where the world was going. “We went from integrating one of the companies to actually spitting out one of the companies within a millisecond,” she says.
While it was painful to watch the stock price crash and thousands get laid off, she says, “I remember feeling really proud of Cisco because I felt like we were really clear as we started to invest in the five big technology areas that we thought would be our future … there was this realization that you can go through tough times and still come out on the other side and be even stronger.”
Katsoudas came into the pandemic in March of 2020 as the company’s chief people officer. A year later, her role was expanded to include policy and purpose. “We realized that one of the most important things to our people was their experience,” says Katsoudas. “When you start to look at digital access against the backdrop of policy and then the engagement of your people, it allows us to be incredibly strategic.”
Click on the interview above for more about how Katsoudas structures her job, the role that an executive coach plays in her life and her views on the changing demands on leadership. At the center is a profound appreciation for the power and need to have inclusive growth.
“I think I was a feminist at five,” she says. “As I’ve become older, I’ve broadened that to understand it’s it’s much more than gender.”