Kathryn Howe: One of the Most Powerful Women in Consumer Technology is Transforming Retail with Cisco Technology
Thought Leadership, Retail, Core Networks, Data Center, Mobility
Dealerscope magazine recently named Kathryn Howe, Cisco’s Director of Digital Transformation, Retail and Hospitality, one of the most Powerful Women in Consumer Technology for 2017. Who knew that when she started out, she never even thought about working in the tech industry?
Early in her career, Howe had set her sights on becoming a doctor. While she waited on the application process to medical school, she took a job in sales at IBM.
Technology, it turned out, was a lot more interesting than she originally thought. She was hooked. “A lot of women avoid careers in technology because they assume it’s think tank stuff, or super immersive like accounting,” said Howe. “They think you’re going to go to an office and be in front of a computer all the time, and that’s not at all what a career in technology looks like.”
After spending 18 years at IBM, Howe moved on to start-ups and even did a stint with Japanese technology giant, NEC/ She then worked at a retail data analytics start-up as VP of sales and marketing. By then she had a formidable understanding of how behavior analytics could transform retail , which she brought to Cisco in the role of Managing Director of Cisco Consulting and then, Retail Digital Transformation, Americas Sales.
In her five years at Cisco, Howe has risen to lead the company’s Retail and Hospitality Digital Transformation initiative. And she’s still excited about technology – especially digital transformation. “Digital transformation works,” said Howe. “Hotels, casinos, restaurants, retailers – they all worry about being disrupted and that stores are going to disappear. But the companies who are executing digital transformation well are actually surviving, thriving and winning. I get to help companies figure this out. I have the priviledge of being part of their transformations”
Getting established retail giants to reinvent themselves requires a lot of patience, a way of explaining things in simple terms, and the ability to solve multidimensional problems. Last year Howe presented a simple framework for digital transformation at the Consumer Electronics Show in New York that resonated with a lot of retailers. She and her team were invited to present the material at multiple conferences on the spot! “These companies need our technology and they need our help”, says Howe.
But she believes that her synthesizing and problem solving skills have been the real factor in her success. “I was the person who used to say nothing for the first half of a meeting,” she said. “Then I would lean forward and suggest something that incorporated and synthesized everyone’s input. The way my brain works, I’m able to connect dots and get to a solution that resonates with the majority of the people. It takes a lot of listening and simultaneous idea generation – kind of like an intense video game where you are watching, listening, and pushing buttons all at the same time until you finally get to the goal!”
Howe’s career advice for those entering the field of technology? Aside from being a good listener, Howe suggests trying different things, and not being afraid of failure.
“There’s an advantage to trying different things,” says Howe. “As I tried different things, I discovered more about myself, the folks I worked with discovered more about me, and it just was this natural evolution of ending up in the right spot. I’ve had four jobs in five years at Cisco and I love what I do.” One reason she loves what she does so much – and why she encourages women in particular to consider a career in technology – is that it has allowed her to have a life of constant learning that incorporates career, family and service to others: “What I am doing allows me to keep learning and problem solving – now who wouldn’t want to do that every day?”