Debbie Dunnam is SVP of Worldwide Services Sales and Global Customer Success at Cisco and sits on the Board of the Texas Conference for Women. Here she shares the story of how she went from field rep to senior management in the tech industry…with a little help from her role models.
Q: Please share how your professional career began and how you ended up where you are today?
A: I began my professional IT career as a sales representative, “out in the field” in Austin, where I came after having graduated from college in Michigan and getting transferred to Abilene, Texas, by General Motors, before eventually making my way to Austin and my journey into sales. Early on, I realized the importance of finding good role models and people whom I used as coaches (or my personal Board of Directors, as I thought of them) and always turned to them, even as I came into my “own” and had the opportunity to become a VP, and then a Senior VP. I also learned to listen – to my own team, to customers and partners – especially to ideas, approaches and positions that are different than mine. This has been invaluable in going through many transitions and driving to excellence and success.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: My greatest inspiration is my grandfather, Robert Smith. He was a self-educated émigré from Scotland who helped start the labor movement in the U.S. and worked to end child labor. He was primarily a self-taught man and made it a point to learn something every day. He always had a personal viewpoint, but more so, a personal contribution and commitment to a project or campaign. And most importantly, he taught me that if you can dream it, you can do it.
Q: As a leader in your company, what is the best piece of advice you would offer to a new employee to help them succeed?
A: Consider a plan, make a mark and build upon your success. And always, always approach your role as if you were the general manager of that business regardless of your level or position – you’ll find that if you make savvy business decisions that take into consideration broader implications and outcomes – you’ll be positioned to drive success for your business, your team and yourself.
Q: What would you say has been your driving force in your staying power in a male-dominated industry?
A: Two words: personal leadership. I make a personal commitment, and it requires authenticity, accountability and inclusion & diversity. This is what defines personal leadership for me and it has been the driving force behind my career. I have used this approach to leadership as the foundation for my career, and how I set expectations for leaders in my organization.
Q: As a seasoned professional, how do you share your experience with your team on a daily basis?
A: I leverage any opportunity to communicate with my team – video calls/meetings, emails, IM’s, text, voicemails and postings to my internal website. I strive to dedicate time to recognition of individuals who have learned from others – with awards, hand-written notes and leverage of multiple approaches to share those examples broadly across the team.
Q: What is the one thing you make time for in your daily life that helps keeps you refreshed and positive?
A: Family. My family—my husband Jim, in particular—keeps me grounded, centered and inspired.