Anil Menon never set his career sights on working in tech, but as global president of Smart+Connected Communities business at Cisco he believes he has one of the best jobs in the company. "I can't imagine any other job in Cisco I would want," said Anil. "I think we can turn this into a three to four billion-dollar business over the next five years. That's my goal."
And Anil knows business. He spent the first part of his career as a business school professor at Emory University in Atlanta. As a successful tenured professor with an extensive personal consulting practice to blue chip global companies, Anil thought he'd stay in academia for his entire career. But in 2001, IBM came courting and he responded. Anil credits much of his leadership style to former IBM CEO, Sam Palmisano. "It was Sam who told me, you should not be doing strategy, marketing or functional work. You should be in sales because you can close complex deals," Anil said. "I didn't do it at IBM, but that's what I do now at Cisco. It's interesting that I was trained to do what I'm doing now by IBM and Sam."
Traveling the World Connecting Communities
Smart cities are those that understand the value of the city itself and of its citizens—the soul of the city—and then can use technology to enhance that value going forward,As head of the Smart+Connected Communities business, Anil is a road warrior. He typically travels to two to three countries a month. With all of those miles under his belt, Anil sees first-hand social and demographic shifts happening worldwide. Enter, Smart+Connected Communities. "There are about ten thousand people per hour leaving rural areas to move into cities worldwide. In that context, we have to start thinking not only about the cities, but also about the rural communities," Anil said. "If you have affordable digital technologies and digital infrastructure you can take healthcare, education, and culture into rural areas, so there's less of a reason to come into cities on a daily basis for jobs, entertainment, or healthcare."
While technology can connect these communities, Anil believes technology can also help cities to become smarter. "Smart cities are those that understand the value of the city itself and of its citizens—the soul of the city—and then can use technology to enhance that value going forward," Anil explained.
While many people equate smart cities with better traffic management, improved security, or streamlined operation centers, which Anil acknowledges are certainly important, his experience tells him its more than that. Anil recalls his conversations with Barcelona's then-mayor who envisioned making his city better by making it a place where more people could dance in the streets. "He said to me, ‘for people to want to dance in the streets of Barcelona they must be clean,' and that lead to a discussion of how to manage garbage and parking and lighting and whatever else needed to be done so that more people could dance in the streets." Anil responded to the mayor by explaining how Cisco technology could help make that happen, and a partnership was born.
"When you listen to the city manager of Kansas City talk about Cisco's Smart+Connected Digital Platform, he is even more excited about it than I am, and that's what keeps me going Seeing all the good Cisco can do for communities fuels Anil, and his passion is contagious. "When you listen to the city manager of Kansas City talk about Cisco's Smart+Connected Digital Platform, he is even more excited about it than I am, and that's what keeps me going," Anil said.
Learning by Example
Anil describes himself as an introvert. But you wouldn't know it watching or listening to him; he is animated and engaging. Anil admits those traits didn't come naturally to him. He had to work at it, by watching how others in the public eye presented themselves. When he came to America 36 years ago as a graduate student, he became conscious of having a strong accent and a deadly fear of public speaking. So, he worked on adopting a more improvisational style in making presentations by watching stand-up comedians like David Letterman, political speeches on C-Span and the non-verbal styles of televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart. "I would practice for two hours every day in front of a mirror and tape myself and play it back," Anil said. "I think I did that for 10 or 12 years. I still do it, just so I can tell a story a little better."
Anil considers his passion for work and his drive to keep learning and improving as his core strengths. He continues to learn from other people—mainly his team whom he says inspires him to work hard every day. That doesn't leave much time for hobbies, but he has amassed two unique collections: 19th century Baluchi carpets and Edison cylinder phonographs from the 1880s to 1915.
"I consider myself a steward of these cylinder machines and tribal carpets for the next generation of collectors and museums," Anil remarks. "I have more than 2000 cylinders, and they go from 1880s onwards." Anil is clearly proud of his collection. "My wife made me convert one of my garages into a show room because she had had enough of having all this inside the house," he chuckled.
As for the Baluchi rugs, they are not only beautiful to look at, but studying their historical evolution helps Anil to relax. When he talks about the antique rugs, Anil delves into their tribal history and even makes a link between them to today's computers.
"In the 19th century, all tribal rugs, like the Baluchi carpets I collect, were made by illiterate women and girls who wove these spectacularly intricate designs over six to eight months entirely by memory without any template for the final look and design. When the Jacquard loom was invented in 1804, weavers sought to automate such complex and intricate weaving and they created punch cards that could be used to guide the looms. Those punch cards inspired Charles Babbage when he created the original programmable computing machine that later became the foundation for the modern computers developed by IBM," noted Anil.
Proof, perhaps, that all things are connected in some way, and that creativity can inspire many future innovations.