Tech Overlook

Fatherly Advice Leads to Life Lessons


2018-Aug-16

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photo of Gerri Elliott
Gerri Elliott, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer.

Our new chief sales and marketing officer was lucky in that she learned a paramount lesson for business success from her dad early on — one that would serve her well throughout her career — long before ever having a job.

“It was simple advice, really. My dad always told me that if you truly take care of your customers, you would always be successful in business,” she says.

Growing up in the 1970s in Manhattan, Gerri saw her dad — a Jamaican immigrant — move up the corporate ladder at Macy’s. He started in the mailroom and ended up as an executive buyer for four of the retail giant’s departments.

Decades later, Gerri still vividly remembers her father flying around the world, looking for merchandise to purchase for Macy’s — from gloves to hats to lighters and other tobacco-related products. But when he returned to New York, her dad always felt most at home behind the counter, interacting with customers.

“He wanted to know all their thoughts,” she recalls. “If he was selling a pair of gloves, he wanted to know how well they fit. Did they like the color? How did the leather feel? He told me that there is no substitute for getting direct, face-to-face feedback from the customer. He believed it made him a better buyer. It’s something I’ve never forgotten.”

Rising up the Ranks

photo of Gerri with her husband Steven
Gerri with her husband Steven who have been happily married for 32 years.

After high school, Gerri attended nearby New York University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. “I think it was after that that I realized there were actually other boroughs of New York besides Manhattan,” she laughs.

She went to work for IBM, where she met Steven, her husband of 32 years.

During this time, IBM not only shaped Gerri’s personal life, it also offered her the first big break in the business world. “I consider becoming an executive at IBM the first significant milestone in my career,” she says.

She held key IBM leadership positions in strategy development, services and consulting, product management and sales — both in the United States and abroad.

After more than two decades at IBM, Gerri joined Microsoft, where she notched her second career milestone — being selected to run the software giant’s Worldwide Public Sector group. During her three years in this role, she nearly doubled the business.

In 2009, she joined Juniper Networks as EVP of Strategic Alliances. She was later named Chief Sales Officer and, eventually, Chief Customer Officer, responsible for all sales, services, marketing and partners.

She serves on the corporate board of Whirlpool. She is also on the advisory board for the Center for Executive Women Senior Leadership Program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Capping off Career Milestones

Her third career highlight was joining Cisco. As chief sales and marketing officer, she is responsible for our go-to-market strategy, overseeing our brand and market reputation and sales and marketing workforce.

“I see my role as taking care of the people who take care of our customers, partners and communities,” she says.

But after three decades leading teams at some of the true titans of the high-tech world, why Cisco? She points to three reasons:

  • Admiration: “I have admired the company from afar for so long. I partnered with Cisco at Microsoft and competed against Cisco at Juniper. I am enamoured by the quality of teams here.”
  • Values: “Cisco values are aligned with my personal values of making a positive impact in the community and giving back.”
  • People: “The employees here are simply amazing. I could tell right away that our workforce is passionate, committed and loves this company.”

Success Away from Work

photo of Gerri and Steven with their two children
Gerri and Steven with their two children in their happy place – Palm Springs.

Outside of her career, Gerri stays busy with family, foundations and hobbies.

Gerri and Steven have two grown children, both of whom have followed in their parents’ footsteps and taken jobs in technology.

She has a passion for golf, despite “playing horribly,” she says. Her other hobby is designing products for traveling female executives. This includes items such as travel bags, totes and suitcases.

“It’s fun for me — sitting on planes with a little scrapbook, doodling and drawing,” she says. “It’s all about designing items that will make lives easier for people who are always traveling — which I have done for most of my career.”

While Gerri has sold some of her traveling accessories, she says the hobby is mainly for herself and friends.

She also has a passion for diversity. In 2014, she found Broadrooms.com, a website for women who serve on corporate boards — or want to. The site acts as a one-stop shop for best practices, education, events, news and blogs related to women on corporate boards.

“I started it because I wanted to serve on a public board and found it to be a pretty opaque process. It was not very open or transparent — and there was not enough information out there to help navigate it,” she says. “Broadrooms is the only site out there that offers a comprehensive, end-to-end view of how to research corporate board opportunities. I am very proud of it.”

“You would never know this about Gerri, but …”

  • Her favorite food is chocolate. “Particularly dark chocolate — with any kind of nuts in it. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
  • Her first job was managing a beauty salon — at age 14. “My mother used to have her hair done there, and I started as a receptionist. Within a week, they made me the pseudo-manager — only because I was organized and loved people. I ended up doing that throughout high school.”
  • Her favorite singer is Pink. “I love her voice. I love her passion. And let’s face it: She’s a badass!”
  • Her favorite book is The Polar Express. “It’s tradition that we read it as a family every Christmas — and my kids are now adults. You have to believe!”
  • She has always admired Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “I love that she once said, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’ I’ve taken it to the next step: ‘There’s a special place in heaven for women who do help other women.’”
  • Her favorite place to unwind is the desert. “I have a home in Palm Springs (California) — right in the heart of the desert. The topography there is just beautiful. That is the place where my shoulders lower and I can truly relax.”
  • The best trip she ever took was a tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with her family. “It was amazing. So much history. So much culture to experience.”
  • The best advice she’s been given: “‘Know what your fastball is’. A former manager told me this, and it stuck with me. At the time, I was asking myself whether I needed to diversify from things I could do really well into things I wasn’t sure about. He told me to know your fastball—know what your best qualities or talents are, be comfortable with those strengths and exploit them.”
  • She loves music of all types. “You could say I’m eclectic in my musical taste. I hum everything from Broadway show tunes to rap to country.

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