Guillermo Diaz Jr.: The Innovator

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Guillermo Diaz Jr., CIO, Cisco

Guillermo Diaz Jr.—known to his friends and colleagues simply as “G”—leads tech giant Cisco Systems’ global IT organization, strategy, and services. His focus is on driving the business outcomes that are critical to the digital transformation of Cisco, its customers, and its partners. Diaz started a career in telecommunications while in the US Navy, worked his way up in leading high-tech companies, and joined Cisco in 2000. The influential CIO is passionate about technology, developing his team, and empowering the next generation, especially Latinos, to pursue opportunities in STEM fields. Diaz met with Hispanic Executive to talk about leading Cisco’s tech transformation. 

Have you always had a passion for technology?

GD: I’ve always been interested in pushing the limits of everything I tried. As a kid, I wanted adventure. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, so I figured I would start out as a jet engine mechanic. My mother had other plans, though, as she saw something that I didn’t quite see—a world of technology. I didn’t have the opportunity to go through a traditional route to college, but there were telecommunications jobs available in the Navy.

And joining the US Navy set you on the path?

GD: It set the path for my entire career. I learned about how networks worked and how ships communicated, used satellites, and needed security encryption. I encountered the foundational principles of wireless networks and security in the Navy.

What skills have best served you as you’ve grown into a prominent tech leader?

GD: My passion for building relationships has served me well. My days in the Navy were the first in which I was around people who weren’t all Hispanic. And even the Hispanics originated from different countries and were from different parts of the country. Diversity became a key learning for me.

Why is that important at Cisco?

GD: It is critical to our business to have diverse backgrounds and perspectives. We are  building a diverse leadership team under our new CEO, Chuck Robbins, and in our hiring pipeline. Because the world is rapidly becoming digital, we need diverse thinking and skills so that we can  disrupt; not get disrupted. I am the executive sponsor of our Latino employee resource organization, Conexión, which focuses on professional development for our members, building a diverse talent pipeline for Cisco, and growing young talent through our community engagement activities.

You’ve been at Cisco for seventeen years. What triumphs stick out?

GD: I came here to transform the web network infrastructure, but I stayed because of the opportunities to grow, and evolve. Rebecca Jacoby, our SVP of operations, has been my boss for quite a while. She has pushed me to get new perspectives and move to new roles. One role was to develop Cisco’s service architecture. She felt it would take me where I wanted to go . . . and she was right.

What were the most important lessons you took from Rebecca Jacoby?

GD: I had to discover more about different processes and workflows so I could become a better and broader leader in IT and at Cisco. In 2009, Rebecca asked me what I wanted to be, and my answer was simple. I said, ‘You.’

What did you mean by that?

GD: I wanted to become a top business leader in the organization. I think it’s important to make those aspirations known and take the steps to make it happen.  When I have an aspiration, I ask myself every day if I am doing what is needed to inspire myself and others on the journey.

In 2015, you became the company’s CIO.

GD: Correct. It was a big moment to get that call. Rebecca, Chuck, and John asking me if I was ready to be the CIO of Cisco. As a kid of Mexican heritage from the east side of Pueblo, Colorado, every emotion went through me, and I felt honored and proud to lead IT for what I think is the best company in the world.

“When I have an aspiration, I ask myself everyday if I am doing what is needed to inspire myself and others on the journey.”

Guillermo Diaz Jr.

What has the new role been like?

GD: It’s been awesome and challenging. I’ve been here almost seventeen years, and I have built great relationships, but expectations are high to build on Cisco IT by doing things differently. I have to inspire reinvention for myself and my team.

How do you respond to inspiring reinvention?

GD: You have to remember where you came from to know where you’re going. I had to remember the building blocks that got me here. One of the building blocks is what I call ROI—relationships over issues. I continue to invest in relationships and focus on building those at the executive leadership level. Then I leverage and gain the dividends of taking risks and making bold decisions at a whole different level. ROI is the foundation but I have to keep pushing the limits for myself and the team to keep reinventing.

What has this latest chapter taught you?

GD: That answer is simple; be comfortable being uncomfortable. It is about pushing the limits of people, process and technology or we could get disrupted.   

What’s next?

GD: There’s so much opportunity out there. I’m excited. We have to think differently. People are now thinking digital and the notion of continuous innovation, and we have to keep driving it home. Once you set and move on an aspiration, people will rally and bring their ideas into the effort, and that will move it forward. Then, as a leader, you show examples of success and reward great work. If you do that, you will inspire reinvention.