Feature Story

What's on your desk, Derek Idemoto?

by Stephanie Chan

What's on your desk, Derek Idemoto?

The Corporate Development VP translates his love for baseball cards and stats into the investments industry.

The things on a person's desk can say a lot about them. What's On Your Desk is The Network's Q&A series that interviews Cisco's innovators and explores their favorite work objects.

Stephanie: What's your name and title?

Derek: I'm Derek Idemoto, a Vice President in the Corporate Development and Cisco Investments Team. I've been at Cisco for 11 years.

Stephanie: For our readers who aren't quite sure what Cisco Corporate Development is or does, can you explain?

Derek: It's the team that basically helps us execute and drive our inorganic innovation strategy.  We execute acquisitions, joint ventures, investments, and even sometimes divestitures. 

I can't help but smile when I talk about this—it is really exciting what we do. Our team sits at the cross section of the most talked-about sectors of technology innovation happening outside of Cisco; we are steeped in the startup world. That's really the space that we play, where we go to look for market disruptions and transitions. It also provides us with an advanced scouting report of where we need to go as a company. 

Stephanie: How does your personal life and passions influence your work?

Derek: I love the deal business. I've been doing it now for almost 25 years. My love for strategy and deal-making is probably highly correlated with my lifelong hobby of collecting sports cards since I was a little kid. I learned back then that deeply understanding the back of a baseball card was an advantage was in a trade.  Meaning, understanding key statistics like batting averages, earned run averages, and so forth, was the key to making a good trade.  Since the back of the card only had historical data, you also had to be capable of projecting a player's performance in the years to come. It was also necessary to take your emotion out of the trade, and equally recognize emotion on the other side that may be clouding your counterpart's judgement. As I look back, that's not too different than my role today, helping think through our portfolio of assets and leading the deals that we often make from an inorganic angle. I understand clearly how important it is to make decisions based on high quality data. From an early age I loved data, statistics, and projecting that forward. I get to do that but now on a huge scale with Cisco.

Stephanie: Can you give us a peek inside the world of acquisitions and investments?

Derek: We do multiple kinds of acquisitions and investments. We do large platform deals, those that get us into a new space. An example of that is the 2017 acquisition of AppDynamics. We also do product expansions, so adding onto a particular existing business, like Viptela for our core networking business. We do acquisitions of what we would call tech and talent—accelerating our business by bringing in key talent and key culture, such as our recent acquisition of Accompany.

Stephanie: What do you look for in companies for Cisco to acquire?

Derek: Within all of those types of deals that we do, there are 3 things I feel are essential for any kind of acquisition: the technology, meaning the innovation and market disruption, the team, and the culture. In particular for Cisco, we've always had a strong culture- there is an increasing emphasis for how important that is for a company. You might find someone telling you that culture eats strategy all day long, and here at Cisco, we believe that.

Stephanie: How would you say our approach to Corporate Development— acquisitions and investments in particular—has changed over the past two decades?

Derek: We have been acquiring and investing for more than 25 years, starting with Crescendo in 1993. I've been fortunate enough to be around the last 80 or so in my 11 years here. I'm really happy to say that our approach has always been consistent. We're a company that values and embraces tech outside of Cisco, and we've consistency applied that to every acquisition and investment we've done.

Stephanie: What does the future of the company look like to you in relation to the companies we're investing in/acquiring?

Derek: Since we've been doing it for 25 years, our lessons learned and best practices over a long period of time all come into play today. We've added more to our brand and our know-how. Part of what we do is use our investment prowess to look around the corner and see what the next great technologies are. Years ago, we set up our first investments theme which was Big Data. Today, Big Data is one of the top five pillars of our strategies. It's the same with IoT—years ago we started investing in IoT, and it gave us the confidence to make a big move to acquire Jasper a few years ago. A lot of what we do foreshadows where the market is going to go, and as long as we continue to stay ahead of that I think we're in a good place. 

Stephanie: Can you let us in on what tech trends are big for the future?

Derek: Our teams these days are looking hard at artificial intelligence and machine learning, at applying blockchain to the enterprise, and at cybersecurity. Finally, there is technology out there like quantum computing—we're learning more about that. Our jobs are to be an advanced scout for Cisco, and to figure out what new innovations, could fit into the business we want to become in a few years.

Stephanie: I see a different array of articles on your desk, tell me a bit about them.

"Derek Norris" poster

It is my face superimposed onto a Chuck Norris movie poster from the 1980s. It is a joke poster, but one that is a deal memento from the Sourcefire acquisition that we did. That acquisition opened up a spree of security acquisitions and we continue to be active in that space. Whenever I look up at it at my desk, it continues to tell me to take myself lightly. It's just about keeping it real. 

Lucites

Deal mementos are called lucites, the traditional deal mementos that we get when we complete a deal. The ones I have on my desk are just a few of the ones I worked on, but they mean a lot to me–Technicolor, OpenDNS, Sourcefire.

Family

Family is first and foremost. We work pretty darn hard here at Cisco, and sometimes that results in personal sacrifices we're making. To have pictures around and to look up and see their faces just resets my day in a positive way.

Giving back

There are six Principles of Leadership at Cisco, and I like two in particular—give something of yourself and embrace diversity. A few of the articles on my desk represent teams or organizations I'm a part of, like CAAN (Connected Asian American Network), Women of Impact, and the executive shadow program. These teams are all very important to me, they exemplify some of the principles we're all trying to follow at Cisco. 

The home team

I'm a huge sports fan, being born and raised in San Jose. I also went to Cal Berkeley as an undergrad—so my teams are the San Francisco 49ers, the Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants and Cal Bears. I'm a lifelong loyal fan of those teams. On the weekends or just outside of work you can find me catching up on whatever sporting event that these teams are playing. 

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