2020 — A Year of Challenges, Change and Test of Character

derek idemoto blog - 2020 — A Year of Challenges, Change and Test of CharacterAs SVP of Corporate Development and Cisco Investments, Derek Idemoto is responsible for optimizing external innovation through acquisitions and investments as a mechanism for Cisco’s growth.

Since joining Cisco in 2007, Derek has spearheaded more than 30 deals totaling over $15 billion, including the acquisitions of Sourcefire, OpenDNS and Leaba Semiconductor.

For all of us, 2020 was a year of immense, extraordinary challenges and change, but ultimately, it was a year that I would define by one word: resilience.

For me personally, 2020 started with a role change, having been named the new leader of the Cisco Corporate Development team just a few short months into the year. I felt incredibly fortunate and humble to have what I consider the best job in the world – managing a team of domain experts; partnering with business unit leaders on strategy; and engaging with venture capitalists, investment banks, entrepreneurs and founders.

The timing, however, brought an entirely new set of challenges. By that point, COVID had quickly become a global pandemic.  For our Corporate Development team, it seemed everything turned upside down overnight – from how we vetted companies to acquiring talent to maintaining a positive team culture.

As a new leader, the challenges felt daunting, but I was inspired to see our team rise to the occasion.

It makes me think of something former legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say, “Flexibility is key to stability.”

If resilience is defined as being adaptable and flexible in the face of change, I cannot think of a better example than how our Cisco M&A and Investments team, hardened over 25 years of in-person deal-making, had to rethink every aspect of acquisitions and divestitures to rewrite our playbook on how deals get done in a 100% virtual environment. However, the facts and figures speak for themselves.  In 2020, we announced nine acquisitions across seven countries and over ten new investments – higher numbers than previous years.

We also came together as a team following the global protests around racial inequality and social injustice, unleashing emotions in all of us.

And together, we rechanneled our shock, anger and compassion into action taken under the unique mandate of our Corporate Development and Investments team.

Almost immediately, we kicked off a Corporate Development Diversity Initiative working group that comprised 25 individuals, representing more than half of our team.

As a result, we created a set of four initiatives uniquely tailored to our capabilities and passions:

We launched a Cisco Investments venture capital fund called the Aspire Fund, publicly committing $50M over the next five years to invest in diversity-led startups and venture funds. We engaged dozens of our portfolio companies to track diversity and inclusion metrics on a regular basis and utilize the full force of Cisco to help these startups improve their metrics. We launched an MBA internship program for this coming summer 2021 for diverse, high potential students. Last, we created a stretch assignments program for diverse individuals to target career growth and engage directly with our Corporate Development team.

From that experience, I learned that while our voices can be powerful, greater change happens when we are able to make a hire or write a check.

With these efforts, we’ve dedicated ourselves to doing both.

As I reflect on this past year, I’m proud of the way that our team took on each seemingly overwhelming and daunting challenge and learned how to find purpose when things felt heartbreaking and dark.

To me, resilience is something that you can only define in hindsight. I also believe challenges don’t just build character, they reveal it.

2020 may have been a year of challenges, but it also taught us much about the strength of our teams, our VC community and, most importantly, ourselves.

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