Feature Story

Meet the Executive: Oliver Roll

by Liza Meak

Cisco's Chief Communications Officer, Oliver Roll knows a good story when he sees one.

Cisco's Chief Communications Officer, Oliver Roll knows a good story when he sees one.

Oliver Roll loves bringing big and bold ideas to life. In his first year at Cisco, he's had a chance to do just that as Chief Communications Officer. Focus Magazine recently sat down with Oliver to talk about Cisco's story, as well as his own.

Focus Magazine: You're about a year into your role as Cisco's Chief Communications Officer.

Oliver Roll That's right, it was a year on December 12th.

Focus Magazine: Tell me how this last year has been, besides going full throttle on all cylinders?

Oliver Roll: I use two words to describe my first year here at Cisco. Intense and energizing; energizing because I'm stimulated in different ways every day so my brain is just having a ball! I have a wonderful set of fascinating things to work on, whether it's Cisco's story and how we articulate why we matter, the value we provide customers through our products and solutions,  or our position and approach with world events. It's just hugely, hugely stimulating.

My second word is intense. I joined at a time when the company was in the middle of a pretty significant transformation. We have grown up as this very successful networking company. We are at a now at a point where we are completely evolving the value we offer customers through our security portfolio, through analytics and through intuitive technologies. The change the company is going through has made for an intense year.

See also: Cisco sparks up The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Focus Magazine: You've been at the forefront of some amazing launches in 2017, like Spark Board and The Network Intuitive. They were very different from what Cisco has done in the past. Can you tell me about that?

Oliver Roll: There are lots of companies doing very interesting things which makes for a lot of noise. For Cisco, it's really important to elevate ourselves and that's what we did with our Network Intuitive launch.

What I've found is that if you want to break through, you have to choose one idea or one theme that will rise above, and communicate it in a meaningful and unexpected way. That's what we've tried to do.

Focus Magazine: You were brought in to shake things up and to bring about change.

Oliver Roll: You're right and what I often talk about is to imagine possibilities and to be ambitious about where we want to go. You can always pull it back, but I think our job as communicators is to imagine possibilities and to paint the picture of where we want to get to.

We have to change our habits.  We have to try new things. We have to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions because if we don't we won't find the kind of success we want. That's what we did with our communications for the Network Intuitive launch.We have to change our habits.  We have to try new things. We have to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions because if we don't we won't find the kind of success we want. 

Focus Magazine: Tell me what you want Cisco's story to be.

Oliver Roll:  At the highest level, my hope for Cisco is that we make a meaningful difference to companies that buy our solutions, and we make a meaningful difference to people and communities that benefit from our technologies. We are a connector.  We securely connect people and things to make amazing things possible.  That is what we do. That is who we are. That is our story.

Focus Magazine: You're an expert at putting together puzzles. You see all of these pieces all over the place, and then you figure out how everything fits together.

Oliver Roll: A puzzle is a good way to think about things. The key is that you want those puzzle pieces to create a really stimulating, compelling picture, one that doesn't need to be explained. You look at it and you understand it, which is the same as a story. You hear it, you understand and it lands.

Focus Magazine:  We talked about Cisco's story, how about telling us some of your story? You're a self-proclaimed junk food junkie who keeps that in check by doing flywheel, right?

Oliver Roll: I eat dreadfully and I hate exercise but I'm getting older and I need to be healthier.  I discovered FlyWheel in Seattle and it's the only exercise that I really enjoy. You have loud music and you're in the dark and someone's shouting at you, and you're stimulated and energized.  

I do ski as well, but my wife hates skiing because she hates the paraphernalia and the cold. I took my 5 year old daughter for two days and she loved it. I am so happy that we have another skier in the family.  She and I are going to ski together now for years to come, and hopefully my son will love it too.

Focus Magazine: You bring an authenticity to work. You are very open about who you are and people seem to relate to that.

Oliver Roll: We're all just people. I'm the same person at work as outside of work. I'm pretty expressive and that just comes out. What I've learned is the more real you can be at work, the more you open yourself up to a level of vulnerability, the more you can figure out the right place, the right job and the right role.

Focus Magazine: Around the time you started at Cisco, you learned your youngest daughter Amara suffers from a rare and severe neurological condition called FOXG1 Syndrome. Can you talk about the support you've received at Cisco?

Oliver Roll: I've had so much support and good thoughts by so many people. It was difficult for me to open up about Amara, but that vulnerability has brought such wonderful warmth and compassion. Her condition means that without a cure she's unlikely to walk or talk and will have severe developmental issues.

One of the great things about Cisco is that we are all part of a community. Some companies choose a cause, but Cisco enables people and employees to choose causes they're most passionate about.

My wife Nasha recently co-founded the FOXG1 Research Group, which is focused on finding a cure for FOXG1 Syndrome. Scientists believe that FOXG1 holds the key to understanding many brain-related disorders including autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, epilepsy and brain cancer.

It's been great that Cisco has the matching program, and now the FOXG1 research group is now part of that. We are very fortunate to be living here and to be part of this Cisco community as we continue this journey with Amara.

I've always tried to think about how I could help the most. When I was still at Microsoft in London, I took part in something called Byte night.  Every year, we slept in a park in the middle of London where the homeless sleep to help raise money on their behalf. I have always chosen to get involved with issues that have spoken to me.  Now I have a very personal cause with Amara.  

Editors note: Click here to donate to the FOXG1 Research Group or to find out more information.