It took Cisco CEO John Chambers a year to convince her to join the 36 billion technology giant as its chief technology officer (CTO).
That was back in 2007 and she was taking time evaluating as her goal was to be part of a company that could bring about a fundamental change in technology. It is this fierceness of character combined with an innate passion for life that has led 49-year-old Padmasree Warrior to the place where she is today. Realising that the future is in the hands of those who can develop and push new ideas of technology, she took the plunge and has ever since played a key role in transforming Cisco from a switches and router company to a leading platform provider for the next generation Internet. As CTO, she is responsible for not only leading the company’s technological innovations and strategies, but also working closely with its senior executives and board of directors to align these efforts with Cisco’s corporate goals. Her inherent enthusiasm, combined with an actively analytical and imaginative mind, made her perfect for this job that saw her relocate from Motorola, Chicago to Cisco, San Jose, two years ago.
Her zest for life is something she developed while growing up in Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh. A small commercial town bustling with activity by the banks of the river Krishna, surrounded by hills and full of tales of intrigue-both historical and magical, it provided a precocious mind with ample material for an active imagination. “As a child, I used to go for long walks along the river with my family and dreamed up stories with make-believe characters from the dark hills,” she laughs. She spent many of her childhood years trying to satiate this part curious and part adventurous streak by involving herself in escapades that ranged from trekking into the hills to wading through the river. “Not all these excursions were heroic and at times caused much consternation to my parents,” she says.
Growing up in a home that was chaotic with the comings and goings of friends, relatives and neighbours who often dropped in unannounced, IIT, Delhi was a rude shock. After her first week, she was so homesick that she called to say she wanted to return. It was her father who discouraged her, saying, “It’s too late to turn back. You started down this path and now the only question is what you will do to make the journey exciting.” Warrior says that in retrospect, this was the best advice she ever got, because after the first few weeks of loneliness, she developed a strong sense of belonging within the small community of women engineers, nurturing and supporting each other. It was this experience that became the source of her desire to see other women in technology become successful and has motivated her to help and mentor many young minds.
IIT is also the place that she met her husband, Mohan Das Warrior, President and CEO, Alfalight Inc. Even though they met when they were 17, they waited until they had completed their education before settling down. Warrior went to Cornell for her masters degree in chemical engineering while he went to Kellogg. She describes him as the most open minded and generous individual she knows who is cheerful, down to earth and real. “He encourages me to be myself. This is something I always share with people, the importance of being true to yourself,” she says.