American born Suzanne Hansen is back in the country, but is still with Cisco. Her new role with the company is regional manager for operations and marketing. She talks to Jan Birkeland about finally coming home to New Zealand, how she ended up with Cisco and how she might just want to set up a bed and breakfast one day.
How did you get started in the IT industry?
I grew up in Hawaii, but was constantly moving because my father had a job with IBM at the time. I went on to UCLA, where I graduated in 1982. I took one computer course during that degree, for which I got a very average score. Because my dad worked for IBM, I’d always seen IT as part of my life. Ever since they had open days at his office, where they would print out Snoopy on a dot matrix printer, I wanted to work with IT.
I started interviewing for jobs after my graduation. It was pretty easy getting a job in the IT sector at the time. I interviewed with larger companies like IBM, but quickly realised that I wanted a smaller company. I landed a job with Ashton Tate, which was responsible for the dBASE database application. The company became one of the powerhouse software houses at the time, but ended up selling out to Borland in 1991. At the time, it represented a typical software house that thought it could do anything. It would do things like load up the channel with six months’ of stock, and make mistakes like putting German help files on French programs and vice versa.
Hawaii is a long way away. How did you end up on this side of the world?
I transferred to Sydney with the company about 1985 to take over marketing in Australia and New Zealand. I worked in Sydney for about 18 months, and ended up marrying my New Zealand distributor, Kerry Baillie. I went back to Sydney, before returning here again in 1987 to work for Hewlett Packard. I worked at HP for a couple of years, and then Kerry and I ran our own company, called Software New Zealand, which had exclusive distribution rights to Adobe and Macromedia at the time. After the company was sold to Datamatic, I went to work for Renaissance. I was fortunate to work with a lot of great people there, including Trevor and Warwick Grey and Mal Thompson. During my time there I met my current husband, and got pregnant with my son.
To what extent did becoming pregnant affect your career?
I left Renaissance at that time and just did some contracting for a year while I was pregnant. That was very interesting, because I found that because I had a background in the channel, marketing and business development, I ended up doing freelance work for six or seven different companies. I remember being at the hospital when I was giving birth, taking calls from people who needed something.
How did you end up at Cisco?
An old friend of mine ended up with them and I basically sent her an email one day just to catch up. She replied saying that Cisco was interested in some help setting up a channel here, and she asked if I could do some part-time consulting. I started with Cisco in 1998, and I’ve never had a part-time day since that — it became full-time from day one.
You have moved around a fair bit in the market. What is it about Cisco that makes you want to stay with them?
Cisco is one of those places that always changes; it’s always morphing into something new. I have a short attention span, so as long as I’m engaged I’m happy. And I have never been bored at Cisco. Cisco New Zealand is even more amazing for me because you have to be so multi-talented to do well here. Most people in this industry can’t be specialised, you have to do a little bit of everything, and I find that very interesting.
I think New Zealanders excel overseas, because they want to help everybody do a great job. It’s a very competitive market here, and you have to be very good at what you do or you lose. The downside was that when I went to Sydney I found it hard not to do everything myself. With the role I have now, I can be very hands on.
In the future, do you see yourself staying in New Zealand?
Absolutely, we’re doing some construction on our house and will move in there some time after Labour Day weekend. I love living here in New Zealand. My husband has been doing a degree in hospitality and management in Sydney, so our exit strategy one day will be to do something in hospitality, maybe open up a bed and breakfast or something. I love entertaining, and we’re both quite social.
Other than work, what do you fill your days with?
I love walking, especially bush walking. I probably walk around 30 to 40 kilometres a week. I also love to entertain a lot, and I’m very excited about our house where we’re currently putting in a brand new kitchen. I’ve come to a place in my life where I really want to go and nest now. I’m looking forward to taking the ferry to work, and I probably won’t buy a car for the first six months here. I’ve only been back in the country for five days and I’m already really enjoying New Zealand.