Cathy Smith, Managing Director for Cisco Sub-Saharan African Shares Insights on Female Inclusion in Technology
Cathy Smith joined Cisco in April 2015 as the head of Cisco’s business operations across South Africa. In her role, Smith was responsible for the development and execution of Cisco’s go-to-market sales and digital transformation strategies for the region. Most recently, she was promoted to Managing Director for the Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa region.
She will now look after the whole of the region reporting to David Meads. Olakunle Oloruntimehin who is the General Manager for Cisco Nigeria and English speaking West Africa and David Bunei (General Manager: East Africa and Indian Ocean Islands) remain in their roles but will work with and report to Smith in her expanded role.
As Sub-Saharan Africa’s Governments and organizations embrace the next wave of technology transformation and become fully digitized, this presents a new opportunity for new revenue streams, better customer, citizen service delivery, new operating models to deliver greater value, and new job streams. Smith has over 25 years of experience in the IT industry leading diverse teams in both private and public sector organizations, as well as building strong partner and customer relations. Smith spent 23 years with IBM where she held various leadership roles in IT service delivery, HR and Sales.
Before joining IBM, she worked for several companies in the Insurance Industry as an application developer. She also spent three years in the United Kingdom where she consolidated her international expertise and held a number of executive roles for the European and global markets with a focus on outsourcing services business.
Cathy Smith is a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative (ALI), an organization set up to develop the next generation of value-based African leaders who are capable of guiding and leading their countries as they struggle to align the demands of globalization with local visions of a sustainable society. She is a Board Director at Cisco Systems South Africa (Pty) LTD and Cisco Technologies Solutions.
How has 25 years of experience in the IT industry prepared you for this new role?
The ICT industry has changed drastically since I first joined it as a programmer. In my early days, we used to work with heavy hardware that we would need to manually have to carry to a customer, which is why so many females shied away from the sector for so long. Nowadays, everything is automated and software driven so we don’t have to carry heavy loads any more. There Engineering to include IoT, Security, Collaboration, Networking etc.
As a female in a predominantly male industry, what were your initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
The challenges I faced when I started out in the industry really had to do with educating myself and my colleagues and each other on our different backgrounds but in fact also proving that we could use our different strengths to conquer. I am a strong advocate for a diverse leadership as it enables companies to innovate, and to think outside the box. We are indeed stronger together, as the saying goes.
Can you tell us what it’s like working with the other countries in the sub-Saharan region?
Africa has so much potential to be a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are already proving our worth with the technology innovations that are coming out across the region.
There are three elements that we need to consider as a region:
The development of digital skills is paramount.
All industries are being digitally disrupted which presents an opportunity for a growing digital economy.
Public-private partnerships are powerful levers for change.
What advise(s) will you give to females in the IT industry who aspire to a career similar to yours?
In this era of digitisation, no one leader knows it all so learn to collaborate with your colleagues and with your industry peers.