Women of Vision

Cisco Woman of Vision: Kate O’Keeffe

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Kate O’Keeffe has an entrepreneurial spirit that drives her to seek out and support innovation. Before leaving Australia for Silicon Valley, by way of Singapore, Kate opened her own bridal fashion shoe store called Cinderella Bella in 2007. She delivered a vertically integrated business designing and manufacturing the collection to order. She sold a significant stake in the store before moving, but remains the owner and director.

Bringing her experience to the tech world, Kate remains dedicated to providing a clear pathway for businesses to build sustainable, measurable innovation capability. She continually seeks to drive innovation outcomes through building capability, involving the employee base, driving ideas to impact and co-creating with customers and partners.

At Cisco, Kate leads the Services Excellence Innovation Center (SEIC), which she founded. SEIC encourages employees to share ideas and be active participants in the innovation process at Cisco. With her global team, Kate helped develop the company’s SmartZone, which enables individuals and teams to share their ideas with colleagues for voting, feedback and crowdsourcing improvements to the idea.

For Kate, this platform was essential to keep Cisco’s culture in tact amid the atmosphere of independence and decentralization at Cisco. SmartZone – and Kate’s general approach to innovation – depart from traditional suggestion systems in which people submit ideas and then wait for someone to act upon them. Kate’s system empowers the individual. For that, the SmartZone program recently won the M-Prize Innovating Innovation Challenge.

Kate believes that it is up to each individual to succeed. “The best lesson I ever learned in my career was that every time I fail to get someone’s help or support, that’s on me.  I’ve failed to connect with what that person cares most about.  Innovation moves at the speed of trust.  If someone doesn’t trust me, that’s on me and, luckily, is entirely within my power to turn around.”

Her next big project is to cultivate innovation in a multidisciplinary way, specifically for the Internet of Things (IoT). Kate identified a capability gap for companies to act on innovation in IoT because by the nature of the field, every innovation is a multicompany, multidisciplinary innovation. In her new center, Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs (CHILL), Kate seeks out customers looking to take innovative risks with Cisco and drive industry disruption powered by IoT. She has already brought together Cisco, Lowes, Costco, Visa and Nike to explore opportunities together, which resulted in four ideas now in development.

Kate is shaping not only how people within companies share new ideas, but also how companies innovate together.

Meet Kate and other inspiring innovators at our Women of Vision Awards Banquet May 14, 2015.