Blooming Cisco’s Daisy

On a sweltering summer afternoon in Bengaluru, I meet Daisy Chittilapilly for lunch at the Oberoi. Despite the perennial traffic chaos outside that plagues the city and the many new-fangled competitors, the hotel retains its old-world charm and a sense of calm, from a bygone era.

Having followed the evolution of the technology industry for more than 25 years, I tell him that it is unfortunate that there have only been a handful of women at the head of technology companies. While Nasscom says women make up 35% of India’s five million tech workforce, there are still very few in leadership positions, but thankfully that’s changing.

We exchange views about it and even as we order drinks to beat the summer heat – ginger ale for her and fresh, tender coconut water for me – I ask her if she is related to Kochouseph Chittilapilly , the business baron of Kerala who leads the V-Group Guard and Wonderla.

Daisy laughs and says no, before adding that the extended Chittilapilly family is largely from the Irinjalakuda-Thrissur belt of Kerala. Despite her roots in Kerala, the first six years of her life were spent in Mumbai as her father worked for Air India in its accounts department. However, in 1980, she and her three-year-old brother, along with their stay-at-home mother, moved to Thiruvananthapuram, when Air India had an opening for her father in the city.

Always academically gifted, she confesses that her initial aspiration was to obtain a doctorate in physics, as she was fascinated by the subject, although there were some whispers in the family about her becoming a doctor. However, encouraged by a sister in the convent who had taught her at Holy Angels School, she passed the engineering entrance exams and evidently qualified. “My dad was always supportive of everything we did. He was very liberal and said he would support you in whatever you wanted to study. I was also very clear that I wanted to study and work, the North Star for me has always been independence,” adds Daisy.

lucky moments

It was also by chance that she landed in the computer industry. When the on-campus internships took place in 1995 at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum (as it was then called), the Electrical and Electronic Engineer was initially selected by HCL. No, not the tech company, but Hindustan Construction Ltd. However, when it took over a month for them to send her an offer letter, Wipro picked her up and gave her an appointment letter the same day.

From a quiet, studious girl in college, Daisy says she got into national sales at Wipro as she moved to Pune. Of the 32 salespeople hired by Wipro that year, three were women. A large part of Daisy’s tenure was to sell Apple products as Wipro was her reseller in the country and some low-end Ethernet products from various brands to mainly government customers like police, NIC and some medium-sized businesses including manufacturing companies as well as just emerging IT companies in the city.

“As a Pune-kar it gave me a different experience. The city had a very student vibe as a center of education and for someone fresh out of college I loved the freedom to stay in a hostel close to Symbiosis and enjoy the atmosphere.The 18 months there I got a taste for Jolada (Jowar) Roti which is also common in North Karnataka.

With the reminder of food, we decide to order some. Daisy says she is a foodie and likes to try all cuisines, although her small stature not only indicates that she is a conscious consumer, but also makes sure to stay in shape. “Food is a great way to connect with people and experience cultures. Some of us unfortunately even when we go abroad order Indian food. What is the point of traveling and to experiment then?’ she asks. As I’m a vegetarian, Daisy decides to opt for the same as well. We end up ordering a platter of vegetable kebab, lasooni saag and paneer makhani to go with our tandoori rotis and naans. with garlic.

Continuing to reminisce about her days in Pune, Daisy recounts how some of her hostel friends continue to be close and even now meet every year and take a trip or outing together, although most of them do different things and even in different parts of the world. “Also, while everyone is talking about inclusivity and diversity now, Wipro was practicing those things back then, providing opportunities for women like me.”

Eighteen months into her stay in Pune, she received a call from KS Vishwanath, who now works for the Nasscom foundation, and at the time was heading the Bengaluru operations of Wipro Infotech which she says comes to say, “Pack your bags and move here.” His work to secure the difficult government deals and especially to ensure that the company was paid after the sales, had not gone unnoticed and greater challenges awaited him. So she moved.

It was the late 1990s and with the boom of the year 2000 and the unprecedented growth of the IT sector, the opportunities multiplied. “You had to choose the battles you wanted to fight, the clients you wanted to engage,” says Daisy as she became an account manager in the much larger and more dynamic Bengaluru market, which was then emerging as the IT capital of the country. . “Since then, I love this city so much that I have never moved,” she laughs.

Role of bureaucrats

We then both exchange notes on some of the veteran bureaucrats who played key roles in Karnataka’s emergence as an IT powerhouse, including the late IAS officer Sanjay Das Gupta who established Bengaluru to develop the potential of state enterprises. , K Jairaj, a well-known retired officer of the IAS, except for Rajeev Chawla, whose land digitization efforts have not only won him awards but have also been replicated across the country. Given her hectic daily sales calls, Daisy recalls, “My mom told me why not get a desk job instead of pounding the streets every day. But, I thrive on interacting with people and loved being on the front lines.

By then, his go-getter attitude had seen him rise through the ranks from Account Manager to Regional Sales Manager to Team Leader and finally responsible for the entire Kerala – Karnataka – Goa territory. Wipro tried to groom her for bigger roles by bringing her on the internal innovation board to play the role of influencer. Although several of her peers have moved to the United States in progressive roles within Wipro, Daisy says she was not attracted. “My brother, a banker, had moved to the Middle East and I wanted at least one of us to stay in India, if our parents demanded it, especially since my father had retired by then.”

Eight years after the launch of Wipro, several companies – mostly multinationals and partners of Wipro, which was then a systems integrator – tried to court it. Daisy says Cisco, who she knew well because it was a Wipro, contacted her. “It was an ex-colleague, Natarajan Rajkumar, who now works at Microsoft and was then at Cisco, who had asked the company to look at me. There were plenty of opportunities and I had already been approached by several companies. But after seeing how Cisco works up close — I’d seen its vision, its passion, its ability to spot adjacent business, its speed of execution, and a lean, mean machine — it all appealed to me. , it took me three months to even send my CV,” she recalls with a laugh.

After I’ve finished a few rotis myself, I tell her she’s eaten almost nothing as she continues to nibble on the kebab platter. What also intrigued me is different from most tech professionals in her 26 year working career – she’s only worked with two companies, her first job at Wipro where she stayed for eight years and now the current one at Cisco for over 17 years. “It’s because both of these companies are wonderful places. Ethical, simple, ahead of the tech curve, and great places to work,” she adds.

However, after following Cisco India for nearly two decades and interacting with at least five of its predecessors except two of its global CEOs, I push back and ask him, “While Cisco has been all that and more , it also had a reputation for being a very demanding and demanding place, an aggressive culture and a high-pressure environment where seniors are fired if they don’t meet quarterly numbers.

Daisy doesn’t bat an eyelid and says, “Yeah, I had heard that about all the American multinationals too, but one of the things for leaders is mental toughness and resilience. Leadership isn’t just about being a postman and delivering things down the line. But by providing direction, inspiration, help and making sure things get done. Under his leadership, Cisco India today has evolved more towards a lifecycle partnership with customers than just transactional partnerships.

Many mentors

She says there have been so many mentors who have helped her grow as a leader, including Jeff White who briefly came in as Country Leader for India. “Many of them saw me early on in roles that I didn’t see on my own and helped me grow and get there. Other than that role models like AHP (Azim H Premji) , John (Chambers, former CEO of Cisco), Chuck Robbins (current CEO, Cisco) are people I look up to.

Given the dynamism of the Indian market, she is enthusiastic about the prospects. “Cisco spends over $6 billion on R&D; India has our second largest R&D center, unicorns are now being minted every week, our big corporations are becoming global juggernauts. So as a sales organization as well, the opportunity is huge,” she says.

To pay for all the ‘help and advice’ she has received, Daisy says ‘she tries to talk to people and act as a sounding board both internally and externally’. Daisy was also an English tutor at a public school near Commercial Street twice a week before Covid hit. “Education is a great leveler and I contribute both in personal effort and in kind.”

Being single, she says, gives her the freedom to enjoy the two things she loves most: traveling and reading. She sometimes prefers to travel alone and before the curse of Covid hit she traveled to Paris for Da Vinci’s 500th anniversary celebrations of her work at the Louvre with a friend and regrets the cruise liner canceled a trip planned for Antarctica in February earlier this year. Becoming by Michelle Obama is the current book that Daisy says she reads. Arguably Cisco is where Daisy flourished as a top manager.

Published on

May 09, 2022

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