Cisco's Klein listens from the top down

Bruce Klein, who leads Cisco's federal division, earns high praise from government IT leaders for his approach to partnering with agencies.

"He built confidence in people, including me as a young kid," said Klein, senior vice president of Cisco Systems’ U.S. public-sector unit. “He taught me how to get the most out of people, how to treat others as you would want to be treated. He was very generous. And he was a good listener.”

Bruce Klein’s grandfather taught him some of the attributes he tries to apply in the course of everyday life.

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To this day, Klein, 50, said letting the customer do most of the talking is at the heart of his dealings with organizations ranging from the Marine Corps to Virginia Tech.

“The whole idea is to get to understand the customer’s mission,” he said. “Once we get to understand their objectives, we take what Cisco can bring to the table and educate our customers in how we can help them carry out their missions.”

Air Force Col. Kurt Klausner, director of communications and CIO at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, confirms that Klein’s “forte is being able to hear where we are coming from.”

Bruce Klein

Bruce Klein, Industry Executive of the Year

“Bruce doesn’t just come in and say, ‘Let me tell you about our products,’ ” Klausner said. “He wants to know how we use the network.”

Moreover, Klausner said, Klein is familiar not only with the needs of Klausner’s immediate team but also with what the users — soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen — need to get their jobs done.

“The mission in our organization is to vet new technologies for the special ops community,” Klausner said. “And Bruce has helped us reduce the time it takes” to move from an idea to a workable solution, such as a reliable way to conduct videoconferences that include participants from around the globe." 

“When we first tried TelePresence, it didn’t work over our small satellite dish systems,” Klausner said. “But Bruce intervened, and Cisco went back to the engineering drawing board to tweak it and quickly had the answer.”

That’s a telling example of how Klein views the effect of emerging technologies on the company’s civilian and military clients.

“The integration of voice, video and data has been transformational in federal government,” Klein said. In addition to the potential savings realized by combining disparate networks, “the ability to integrate these things and provide collaboration from headquarters down to the foxhole has improved the way information is shared” in regions where the U.S. military is operating.

It’s transformational, sure — but far from easy.

“Despite the daunting challenge of our move to enterprise solutions, Bruce enthusiastically generated several ideas and [connected us to] other people to talk with on the subject to help us better frame our objectives and goals,” said Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, the Army's CIO.

The top IT officials at the Marine Corps also laud Klein’s management and vision.

“His overall supervision of Cisco [federal customers] and the latest technologies from Cisco have supported the corps well as we move to modernize our network architectures,” said Maj. Gen. George Allen, the Marines' CIO.

Snowmageddon Opportunity

Reflecting on the snowstorms of last winter that effectively shut down Washington, D.C., area offices of the federal government for a week, Klein, in characteristic fashion, said he sought to turn a headache into a proof point for Cisco's products.

The weather "delayed some things, but it also helped promote teleworking,” he said. “My colleagues and I can work anywhere — a hotel room, a Starbucks, at home — using secure connections. And in the case of a snowstorm or, God forbid, a pandemic, our customers can do the same thing.”

Changing the minds of federal IT managers who are skeptical of telework “is more of a cultural issue,” Klein said. “But I do see it changing.” Freed from the hassles of commuting, “I believe actually people work harder and work longer hours from home.”

One high-level champion of telework, Roger Baker, CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department and GCN’s Civilian executive of the year, said he’s known Klein since 1990, when they worked at other high-tech companies.

“I call him when I need something that is more than our normal dealings with Cisco warrants or when he thinks it’s time that [Cisco CEO] John Chambers and I meet again,” Baker said. “There are very few companies out there that I would put in the category of being a partner with the VA, but Cisco is one of them.”

The products that make telework viable for more federal customers are the same technologies that bridge the distance between those serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and other points across the world and their families at home, eager to see and speak to them in real-time as much as possible.

Klein and Cisco, along with the United Service Organizations (USO) and Walmart, helped create Operation Military Connect. The project uses Cisco equipment to let military personnel based at Fort Drum, N.Y., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., enjoy voice and video chats with spouses and children while the warfighters are deployed.

The power of technology to enhance communications on the ground in a war theater is one of the things that inspires Klein each day.

“I feel strongly about the role I am in, in helping to keep the country safe in some little way,” he said, adding that he enjoys “hearing stories from [military officials] who come back from a war zone and tell me how they have used our technology and how it helps keep our men and women out of harm’s way.”

“I think about the sacrifices our military families make when their loved ones are deployed, often in multiple deployments,” Klein added. “Anything I can do for the families and the veterans — well, it’s a little part of how I can give back.”

Among other things, Klein underwrote meals and transportation this year for 100-plus Cisco employees who assembled thousands of care packages for overseas troops during an event at Fort Belvoir, Va. And in 2009, his group was one of the sponsors of a fitness challenge for hundreds of Cisco staff members. Thousands of dollars were raised to buy Cisco video cameras for the USO to document its morale-building entertainment for donors and potential donors.

Cisco customers place their trust in Klein because they know he is reliable. “He is a genuinely warm and considerate senior IT leader who certainly lives by the mantra, ‘The customer is always right,’ ” Sorenson said. 

But don’t look for Klein to rest on his laurels. He’s still got a lot of listening to do.

In addition to customers, “there is an ecosystem of players serving the federal government, and I try to be an ear for our partners and associations" such as AFCEA International, Klein said. “That’s how we can have excellent conversations.”

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