2005 Winner of the ABIE Award Winner for Technical Leadership
Janie Tsao is Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales, Marketing, and Business Development at Linksys, a Division of Cisco Systems, Inc. She is also the co-founder of Linksys.
Janie is the inaugural recipient of the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Leadership. In a career comprised of small but courageous steps, Janie has carefully combined her technical expertise and leadership skills with her willingness to take risks, advancing her ideas into the commercial mainstream.
In 1988, Janie quit her job to pursue an idea — the first of her many bold, pioneering steps. She was a programmer for the retail conglomerate Carter Hawley Hale; her husband Victor, an IT executive for Irvine-based Taco Bell. Together, they had a notion for a product that would let several computers share a single printer. Using personal savings, they launched Linksys, LLC in the garage of their home and never looked back.
For the next seventeen years, at the helm of Linksys marketing and sales channel efforts, Janie concentrated on matching market needs with technology development, successfully steering the company into the retail, distribution, catalog, mail order, and online sales channels. Central to the company’s early success was achieving rapid market acceptance for a new line of printer-sharing hardware. Always forward-looking, Janie negotiated agreements with super retailers CompUSA and Computer City to carry Linksys products. The company’s sales volumes soared as a result. Seizing the momentum, Janie secured relationships with 13 additional retailers, and by 1992, Linksys was recognized as one of the most reliable and best-selling hardware brands on the market.
Building on her earlier success, Janie continued deliberate steps forward to help Linksys solidify its position as a market leader. She identified opportunities for new applications and successfully marketed new and innovative products including the first network card for laptop computers and network kits that provided a two-computer network. Since 1996, nearly one million of the company’s networking kits have been sold, giving Linksys the largest installed base of such kits sold through the retail channel. Today, Linksys is the number one provider of networking hardware sold through consumer retail in North America and the leading vendor of wireless, broadband routers, USB, and networking hardware in both retail and e- commerce sales.
In 2003, as they had done in 1988, the Tsaos took another decisive early step. This time it was to attack the emerging market for products using the 802.11g wireless local-area (Wi-Fi) networking standard. They began production of their Wi-Fi access points and PC cards, and within the first quarter, Linksys found themselves with a half a million orders and a critical three month lead on the competition. They had also attracted the attention of one of the global leaders in networking technology. In April 2003, Cisco Systems acquired Linksys, establishing it as an operating division with Janie and her husband in executive management roles.
In addition to her success in developing business partnerships and sales channels, Janie has been keen to understand and anticipate trends and needs in the marketplace. She enhanced the geographic sales scope of the Linksys division by introducing Linksys products to new markets around the world. As a result, international revenues for the division have grown from three to 11 percent in the past year. In Asia, Linksys is the second most recognized technology brand.
The ability to see the next big trend and to react quickly and nimbly has been the hallmark of Janie’ s exceptional leadership at Linksys. She believes in the power of positive reinforcement, and nurtures morale at Linksys through incentive programs and open-door polices. She has encouraged employees to “cross over” into internal business divisions when they feel they have something to offer. By letting employees straddle departments and add value wherever they can, Linksys diversifies its creativity, inspires teamwork environments, challenges staff, and encourages innovative solutions to problems. As a result, product development cycles have also shortened dramatically, and today, Linksys can take a new product from concept to the retail shelf in less than four weeks.
“Although Janie clearly possesses an acute business sense and strong negotiating skills, ultimately what she really does best is to motivate people to give their best efforts and to encourage them to always think about what is coming next,” said Allen Huotari, Linksys’ director of Research and Development.
As a business owner, innovator, colleague and mentor, Janie is a true Woman of Vision. While many measure success by reflecting upon past accomplishments, Janie prefers to look forward thoughtfully, meet challenges directly, and lead one step at a time.