Cisco has some bold and unconventional ambitions to transform itself from a U.S.-centric multinational corporation (MNC) into globally integrated enterprise (GIE).
Globalization, as I have discussed in a number of recent blogs and reports, is rapidly becoming one of the defining attributes of knowledge work. It is also rapidly becoming one of the defining attributes of dynamic, growing companies.
But what is globalization? What are the attributes of a global company and what does the process of going global mean for a company’s employees?
Before describing what globalization is, let’s first examine what it isn’t. It is not labor arbitrage—the shifting of manufacturing facilities and process-based business functions (such as payables processing and accounting) to less expensive locations. Globalization is much more. It is a deep, sustained corporate commitment to decentralizing the company’s operations, diversifying its markets, distributing its business and management processes, and globalizing the corporate culture.
Consider the example of Cisco, a company that is effectively transforming itself from a U.S.-centric multinational corporation (MNC) into globally integrated enterprise (GIE). True, Cisco is not the first company to go global, nor does it have a huge global footprint, especially when compared with IT services giants such as Accenture or especially IBM. But like most of the company’s ambitions, its globalization ambitions are bold and unconventional.
For years, Cisco has sold globally and operated overseas facilities. Yet, it based its corporate management team in the U.S., and made virtually all major corporate decisions there. The company’s plan to transform itself into a truly global company, with a global culture, globally-integrated management process and global growth strategy emerged in late 2006, with the board’s authorization of a plan to open a “second corporate headquarters” in Bangalore India.
This new globalization center is not about labor arbitrage. Cisco neither migrated existing operations, business processes nor functions from the U.S. to India. Although reduced costs are certainly a bonus of its globalization efforts, it created the Bangalore center to support net new corporate capabilities and to address three fundamental corporate goals, to:
- Accelerate growth in emerging markets (especially Asian) during a period in which emerging countries promise to grow much more rapidly than traditional developed country markets and to incubate some of the company’s most promising new growth businesses;
- Drive new levels of innovation by designing products in/for emerging markets and by exposing the company to new business opportunities and business models; and
- Capture increasingly scarce talent in a world where employable labor forces in general, and technically educated workers in particular, are growing much more rapidly in emerging countries than in developed countries.
Why Bangalore? First, Cisco, and a number of the companies it acquired, already had operations in the city. Second, and more importantly, India is a huge market and within 5 hours, one can fly from Bangalore to 70% of the world’s population and most of the world’s most dynamic and rapidly growing economies. Moreover, India has a large and rapidly growing base of well educated, English-speaking talent, some of the world’s best technical universities, and a judicial system that respects intellectual property.
The Roles of Globalization Center East
The center, which opened in 2007, is also one of Cisco’s showcase corporate facilities. It is the greenest building in the company and the first to be totally IP-enabled. It delivers a broad range of video service—including video healthcare—directly to employee desktops and serves as one of the company’s premier customer centers and a showcase for all of its new offerings.
More importantly, the facility, which currently houses 5,000 people, provides a full complement of corporate functions and a rapidly growing percentage of the company’s top executives. This includes large numbers of managers and directors, 14 Vice Presidents and Wim Elfrink, Executive Vice President of Cisco Services and the company’s Chief Globalization Officer.
While this executive contingent certainly includes people responsible for the company’s Indian operations, its overall emerging country growth and the company’s overarching globalization strategy, it also includes executives with broader corporate responsibility. Elfrink, for example, is responsible for the company’s entire services business, which accounts for 20% of Cisco’s total revenues. Other Bangalore-based executives manage global initiatives including Smart Connected Communities, Connected Real Estate and Advanced Services.
Bangalore-based executives are intimately involved in all types of corporate decisions. They sit on virtually all of the company’s councils and boards and sometimes drive initiatives that have only ancillary links to India or emerging countries, including the acquisition of at least one U.S.-based company. Bangalore is also taking the global lead in some of the company’s most promising growth opportunities, such as those around smart buildings, smart cities and smart grid.
Cisco’s 4,500 person Bangalore R&D center also plays an increasingly global role. Roughly 40-45% of its activities focus on designing new or adapting current products and services for emerging country markets, 40-45% on developing leading-edge offerings (including a central role in developing the company’s line of Nexus data center switches) for global markets and only about 10% focus on India-specific offerings.
The Future of a Global Cisco
Although the opening its Globalization Center East center was certainly a critical step in transforming Cisco from an MNC into a GIE, it is only a step. The company plans to grow the center from 5,000 to 10,000 people and to dramatically expand its role in developing new markets and products and in training a new generation of truly global managers and executives. John Chambers, for example, has committed to locating at least 20% of Cisco’s to talent in India by the end of 2010 and to ensuring that center will play a co-equal role in shaping the future of the entire company.
But regardless of how big and important the Indian operation is likely to become, it is only a first step to transform Cisco into a truly global company. It is likely to establish additional global centers in the future. China, meanwhile, will also play an increasingly central role. It is likely to become the company’s primary manufacturing hub and home to market initiatives such as Smart Cities.
Although each center will focus on technologies and growth opportunities of particular concern to regional customers and on global functions and processes to which the region’s talent is best suited, each center is also expected to play a central role in the management of the entire company. Each will house large and growing numbers of corporate (in addition to regional) executives and participate in the geographically distributed business model to which Chambers is committed, and to which he is now piloting in India.
Plans are great. But nothing, especially something as radical and unprecedented as Cisco’s globalization strategy, goes quite according to plan. As I will discuss in my next blog, the company has already learned a number of lessons from its initial efforts—lessons that will be critical not only to Cisco’s next globalization steps, but also in those of other companies.