Feature Video

People@Cisco: Mark Patterson

by Liza Meak

In his role as Chief of Staff to Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins, Mark Patterson helps drive the transformation of Cisco now and into the future.

Mark Patterson knows how to put people at ease. He does it with his quick smile, Texas drawl, and skills at smoking and grilling meat. These are all great traits to have, but his talent to bring people together to drive transformation may be one of the key reasons why Cisco Chairman and CEO, Chuck Robbins tapped Patterson as his Chief of Staff one year ago. 

The two have a history, going back to when Robbins ran Cisco’s global sales. “I worked for Chuck for seven years, right up until the time he became CEO,” Patterson said. “The opportunity to work with him again directly and the Executive Leadership Team he’s assembled, it’s not an opportunity I wanted to pass up.”

The job of a Chief of Staff
Soon after he took the role, Patterson received a book called The Gatekeepers, which is a collection of stories from different chief of staffs serving various U.S. Presidents. While Patterson gleaned some insights from the book, he says the title didn’t exactly resonate with him. “I don’t like to think of myself as a gatekeeper,” Patterson said. “Chuck doesn’t need a gatekeeper. I do think he needs somebody who can help bring perspective and tell him what people are really saying.”

See also: People@Cisco: Anuj Kapur

As Chief of Staff, Patterson runs the office of the CEO, working closely with the rest of the Executive Leadership Team on the company’s key initiatives and priorities. “One of the things Chuck says is never confuse working hard with results. I do think this team is focused more on results and ultimately what we accomplish together than on individual achievements,” Patterson said. “There is a willingness to be very candid with each other, still be collaborative, but to be accountable and that’s across the entire ELT.”

Leading with purpose

“You’ve got to be willing to transform and change and bring your best every day in order for things to work both professionally and personally." Patterson says he likes to lead from behind in his role as Chief of Staff, but it’s apparent that he also leads with heart and commitment. That may come from his background. He married his high school sweetheart. 27 years and two daughters later, they’re still happily married, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t grown and transformed in that time. The same can be said about his nearly 20 years at Cisco. “You’ve got to be willing to transform and change and bring your best every day in order for things to work both professionally and personally,” Patterson explained.

Bringing your best comes in many forms, and he admires people who show how they manage to balance the demands of career and family. Patterson shared a photo of a Cisco account manager juggling motherhood and Webex meetings to his Twitter followers.

“The way I see people handle that beautifully and actually allow technology to augment both our personal and professional life is pretty cool,” Patterson says. It really is showing the true side of business transformation.

True Texan through and through

Taking the Chief of Staff role meant not just moving to a different job, but also physically moving locations—from Texas to California. “You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the boy,” Patterson says with a laugh. He brought a little bit of Texas with him to California, including his Ford F-150 truck and his extra-large smoker. “In California, a barbecue is cooking hamburgers on a grill. That’s not what we do in Texas. Barbecue is typically brisket and also pork and sausage.”

It’s clear that whatever Patterson does, be it Texas barbecue with family and friends, or driving Cisco’s business transformation with the Executive Leadership Team, he does it with one-hundred percent focus. “People always ask, ‘Isn’t it exhausting?’ I tell them no, it’s invigorating!”

Read more about Mark Patterson Biography

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