Me and my shadows

TORONTO — It wasn’t through an obscure astronomical phenomenon that Nitin Kawale had more than one shadow at yesterday’s Cisco Plus conference.

The president of Cisco Systems Canada Co. is part of an executive development program that has him “being shadowed” by three high-potential employees. Alistair Butler, a British ex-pat who is a 12-year Cisco vet based in New Jersey, and Nick Michaelides, who handles Cisco’s federal intelligence business out of Herndon, Va., were trailing Kawale as part of Cisco’s Momentum program. (A third shadow, Mexican country manager Rojelio Valasco, wasn’t at the conference.)

The in-person job shadowing is part of a “fairly immersive” eight-month program, Kawale said, which largely involves virtual meetings with mentors like him and sessions with local third-party professional leadership development coaches. Potential participants get a rigorous 360-degree evaluation and personality profiling. The program culminates in a week-long forum in June, where they’ll rub shoulders with Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] executives and act as observers at a senior strategy meeting.

Thirty-two candidates are chosen from Cisco’s Americas operation, Kawale said.

Butler said shadowing Kawale exposes him to different parts of the business, different ways of vertical integration in different countries and different management philosophies.

The Cisco Canada team is “thinking transformation in everything they do,” Butler said. “It’s embedded in the fabric of the whole team.

“It’s been frankly thrilling. It’s been great fun.”

For Michaelides, the job shadowing aspect has been the highlight of the program.

“This piece of it has probably been the most beneficial to me,” he said. “I’m learning a lot of different things that I didn’t even think about in the U.S.”

Not only have Butler and Michaelides been learning from Kawale’s Canadian team, they’ve been learning from each other, Butler said. Butler has been dealing with large service providers – he’s currently operations director for Cisco’s AT&T Business Services – while Michaelides holds the same title with Cisco’s federal intelligence business. That business is “very analogous to a large service provider,” he said. “They are in some senses similar customers.”

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