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A Craftsman’s Focus on High Tech, Hope, and Hoops
When Gee Rittenhouse was very young, he was so good at staying laser-focused for long periods that it worried his parents. But combined with the advice his father gave him to “always do your very best,” the trait has served Gee well.
“I’ve always strived to reach my full potential in everything — whether creating music, in athletics, scholarly pursuits, or business,” says Gee (pronounced as in “gee-whiz”), who today leads Cisco’s Security Business.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Pasadena, California, Gee plays the drums and jazz piano, loves basketball, and is a respected leader in the telecommunications industry. He has appeared before the U.S. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the World Economic Forum. He has also given a TED Talk and was twice elected to the Global Telecoms Business Power 100.
Right out of the gate, Gee found the bar set high in his career. After earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at M.I.T., he joined Bell Labs. It was there that he met Nobel laureates, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. Both researchers are famous for detecting the cosmic microwave background radiation resulting from the Big Bang.
“When you meet such luminaries so early in your career, it challenges you to raise your game,” says Gee, who left Bell Labs as president.
Other highlights followed. When Gee took over the first software and services business at Alcatel Lucent, he saw the technology market through the lens of the customer for the first time, versus being focused on products as a researcher.
Then again, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Gee was part of a small team of technologists sent in to look for survivors among the rubble of the Twin Towers. By using cell phones, the team created a new search-and-rescue application of wireless technology. Unfortunately, they didn’t find any survivors, but the technology was used again in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 where many people were rescued.
“It showed how a standard consumer technology can be applied to both commercial and social ends, but also for emergency response,” Gee recalls. “It was a very powerful experience.”
Gee’s full name is George Endicott Rittenhouse IV — after the Dr. Endicott who delivered his great grandfather for free in exchange for having the baby named after him. If Gee could meet one person, dead or alive, it would be Albert Einstein. And if he could have a superpower, it would be the ability to travel backward or forward in time.
In his five years at Cisco, Gee has held five roles. He loves the creative, talented teams at Cisco that can bring new ideas to the table. He also loves that Cisco has the market presence, go-to-market expertise, size, and scale to implement these ideas.
Case in point: When he joined the company in 2013, he was tasked with helping Cisco’s cloud strategy. He was amazed at how his then-boss, Rob Lloyd, had a vision to transform the entire industry, rather than an individual product.
And Cisco’s culture? Gee is blown away by the company’s willingness to reinvent itself — and its courage and leadership to do so before it becomes a matter of survival. “Nothing is sacrosanct,” he says.
Gee’s first job was working with his grandfather and an uncle in the family’s carpentry business. The long hours taught Gee the value of hard work. His grandfather used to say, “You pull the splinters out after work.” It also instilled in him a deep appreciation for craftsmanship — doing things really well no matter what they are.
Both qualities show up in everything Gee does today, including his fierce competitiveness on the basketball court and, his lifelong passion, playing the drums.
“It’s beautiful,” says Gee, who also has a fun-loving, gregarious side. “You just stay in the pocket, keep the groove in time. It’s very zen and meditative — like mowing the lawn.”
Gee has been married for 35 years to his wife, Simone, a veterinarian whom he met in college. They have two children — a son, Evan, a junior at UCLA, and a daughter, Simone-Gabrielle, a freshman at NYU.
You would never know this but …
- When Gee was 10, he won a talent show playing drums.
- His teenage idol was the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
- He owns three cats, one hamster, and 40 fish — “all adopted and saved from peril.”
- His favorite music is old-school ’90s rap.
- He lived in Paris for nearly four years and speaks French.
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