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Sun, 1st Jul 2012
FYI, this story is more than a year old

More than 20 years in the industry haven’t dampened Jennifer Rutherford’s enthusiasm for the sector — and what it can do for business. She talks to Heather Wright about job fulfilment, flexitime and the need for more business focus.

After eight years at Cisco, Jennifer Rutherford, Cisco New Zealand regional manager, still loves her job.

“I’m happy going to work every day. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now. You have to love it. A lot of people get up, go to work, but don’t love what they do. And they go home and think: ‘Is this my life?’”

She believes enjoying your job — and feeling like you’re contributing — are crucial and says as a manager, she likes to work with team members to find out what they enjoy doing and how more of it can be incorporated into the job.

“As a human being our psychology is that once we get past mere survival, our greatest needs are to be loved and valued. In work, being valued and contributing are vital. People who love their jobs will be doing a good job. It’s hard to do a great job if you’re worn down, not enjoying work, feeling depressed and your energy is low.

“I try really hard with my team. Are you enjoying things? If not let’s talk about how we can make things more enjoyable because I want you in here bouncing off the walls.”

Systems engineer to...

Ironically, her current career isn’t quite what she planned. After initially studying marketing at university, Rutherford decided she wanted something ‘less fluffy’ and changed to information science, with a dream of becoming a systems engineer.

A meeting with IBM on graduation changed that. “I wasn’t aiming to go there. I told them I’d like to be an engineer. The positions [IBM had] were all in sales and marketing...” IBM convinced Rutherford she could come onboard in sales and marketing and, through in-house training programmes, transition to a systems engineer position later.

Today, she laughs at the thought of her earlier career plans. “I really enjoy being out and about, and sales and marketing turned out not to be what it was at university, where it was more traditional. I love talking to customers and looking at how technology can help them.”

She would spend two years at IBM. “The first week I was there they sent me to Australia for six weeks. I was earning $40,000 and had a blue suit. I thought I was quite the cat’s pyjamas.”

Stints with Computerland, Toshiba and Compaq — which became HP during her tenure there — followed, each job bringing changes to her role. “It was a case of some parts of the job being the same, but others always being different.

“Cisco was different again. It was still channel, still sales and marketing, still technology, but a different product set and focusing on the telco sector.

“I didn’t know routers, switches and boxes with blinky lights, but I came away from my meeting with them thinking, ‘Wow, I want to work there. This stuff can really deliver all these things in terms of business’.”

Business driver

That passion for delivering something for businesses remains a key driver. She says the industry remains too price focused, rather than business focused. “It frustrates me. You need to link technology to the business value it brings. How does Cisco’s virtualisation offering differ from HP’s virtualisation offering?”

While she says vendors can articulate their own story, she’s concerned the channel may not be able to tell the vendors’ stories. “I think it’s a common problem [not being able to articulate the business benefits and differences in vendor stories to prospective clients] and I’m not sure there is a high understanding in the channel.

“I know they have incredible challenges. They’re dealing with multiple vendors, with high expectations and complex stories. But by knowing the story, knowing the business benefits for clients, you provide more value to the customer and the result is a stickier relationship.”

Rutherford is talking with other vendors to see if they feel it’s a problem also, with a view to developing training — ‘an industry road map of skills useful to everyone’. “It would benefit us, Microsoft... a lot of vendors and the channel partners themselves. A rising tide lifts all boats. I’m not scared to work with the competition.”

She says 20 years ago it wasn’t hard to succeed in technology. “The industry was growing. If you had a quality product, looked after your customers, you were going to do well. Now it’s a lot harder. The profits aren’t there and it’s a much more complex message. People buy IT to deliver something for their business, not just to put PCs on desks. [Resellers] have to have different skills.”

Balance, bikes and racing

She says for her, work life balance is ‘about being effective with time’. “You can’t fit everything in. I might want to do a four-hour bike ride, but maybe I only have an hour for a run instead. That’s fine.”

Mountain biking is a passion, and once a fortnight, on a Friday during work hours, she heads for the hills. “It doesn’t mean I don’t do my job. I work in the evenings and weekends, but go biking Friday. It’s about choosing when and where I do things. It can be a challenging view and it’s also about trust. My boss has to trust me completely — and I check in with him constantly to make sure.”

Technology allows her to move easily between offices in Auckland and Wellington, or work from home, on the road or in the Koru lounge. “We have full HD telepresence available pretty much anywhere [in Cisco]. People don’t have to know where I am. I’m at meetings either face-to-face or on video.”

Rutherford says she’s ‘completely addicted to knowing what’s going on’. “I’m bereft if, for whatever reason, my smartphone is removed from me!”

Despite her love of technology, she’s adament she’s no gadget geek. “I’m not good with new stuff. I have an iPad, but I’m not a bleeding edge user of it. Some of the technologies I take for granted, just because of what we have in Cisco.

“It used to be your voicemail message would tell people you were out for the afternoon and would contact people when you got back. Now things are done on the fly. And I admit to replying to emails at all hours.”

Another passion is adventure racing. She’s been doing the Cure Kids Adventure Race for a number of years. “You get to give to charity, plus the bonding and socialising with your team mates, and exercise, all at the same time. It’s the ultimate multitasking!

“And there’s the business benefit to doing it. You find out how people work together and communicate under pressure. It’s changed my relationship with those I work with and have raced with, for the better.” Rutherford says the race has also strengthened Cisco’s relationship with customers and partners who took part in the event. “Orcon had two teams this year. Our relationship with them is better now because we have the shared experience and personal relationships,” she says.

“Every time [I do the race], I’m sick in the morning, terrified. But as soon as we start I’m smiling and it’s the best day ever!”