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Protecting Cisco's Brand Is a Full-Time Job for Jiri Kocab

Photo of Jiri with his horse Akcent
Jiri with his horse Akcent

When Jiri Kocab joined Cisco, his first business trip was to Istanbul to take part in a raid on a group suspected of trading in counterfeit Cisco products. Not your typical initiation into the company. But then there's nothing typical about Jiri's job. The Czech Republic native is an investigator with Cisco's Brand Protection team in EMEAR (Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia). That's right—just like Gucci bags, Rolex watches and Hollywood movies, Cisco products get targeted by counterfeiters and others looking to make a buck off a respected brand. From his office in Belgium, Jiri brought us up to speed on what this important but little—known team does to protect the Cisco brand.

What does the Brand Protection team do?
It's the department that protects the brand, helps our partners to be competitive and protects our customers. A major focus is mitigating risks in so—called “gray markets”—meaning markets in which products are traded in ways not intended by the original manufacturer. That includes our products that are counterfeit, illegally upgraded, illegally imported, stolen, or sold without a Cisco warranty, without eligibility for Cisco support, without a valid software license, and so on. In other words, a mix of products that bear Cisco's name but which can cause harm to our customers.

How do you know if a Cisco product is counterfeit or not?
We have a special Brand Protection technical team that specializes in recognizing if our products have been tampered with or are counterfeit. If we find that a Cisco channel partner is not compliant with the channel rules, we visit them, conduct a review and ensure there's a remedy for the wrongdoing. We're the only team that can accurately assess and issue a binding document on behalf of Cisco, which states whether a Cisco product has been tampered. We work closely with government law authorities and with tax and customs authorities worldwide to ensure that the intellectual property (IP) rights of Cisco are respected.

How did you find such an unusual job at Cisco?
Before Cisco, I spent two years working with the beer maker Anheuser—Busch InBev. While attending a conference in Amsterdam on protection of IP rights, I met Cisco's Thomas Jirges from Austria. Two years later, I contacted him to ask if there was a position open, and I joined Cisco in 2008. I'll never forget that day. Today, I'm responsible for Central and Eastern Europe, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg, and Thomas is my colleague.

Where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was born in a small town called Znojmo, in the south of the Czech Republic. I went to elementary school in Vienna, Austria, and I wanted to be an astronaut or pilot. Later, I got my degree and doctorate in law at the University of Komensky in Bratislava, Slovakia.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it that you still use today?
I did translation work while I was a university student. I speak six languages—Czech, Slovak, English, Russian, German and Dutch. I remember helping a businessman from Germany with translations. He was the inventor of the manufacturing machine his company was selling. They had a lot of customers all over the world. I learned how important it is to be innovative, to protect your inventions and business interests, and to navigate the waters of competition—all good training for my current role.

Photo of The Cisco Brand Protection team
The Cisco Brand Protection team

Tell us about the Brand Protection team you’re part of.
Gray markets operate all over the world, so we’re a global team with a synergy of diverse training and disciplines. We have people with backgrounds in finance and accounting, auditing, engineering and, like myself, law. We’re a team of highly motivated individuals spread worldwide and sharing best practices and information very quickly within the Cisco network. For us, there are no borders. We might be investigating a case in the UK, but need to gather evidence from China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and Hungary. This is why we need to cooperate very closely.

What do you love most about your job?
There’s always a new challenge for me to solve, pushing me to cooperate with the larger team to achieve some common goal. It’s very collaborative work. I often cooperate with other departments—Legal, Engineering, Sales, PR, Channel Marketing, you name it. There’s not a single department that has not been involved with Brand Protection. And of course, when there’s a successful end to an investigation, it’s very fulfilling. But it often takes time, so you have to be patient.

Who inspires you?
Two people among many are Elon Musk and my grandfather. Musk, of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is visionary and takes a very innovative approach to doing things to benefit people and protect the environment. My grandfather was a farmer his whole life. He had the strength to protect his family through many historic periods. To me, he’s a great example of leadership. I have a framed picture of him with his horses at home.

Photo of Jiri at a customer presentation in Warsaw
Jiri at a customer presentation in Warsaw

What is your experience of the Cisco culture?
The culture is super cool and one of the biggest assets of the company. Cisco is an amazingly supportive environment for anyone who wants to grow personally and to perform at their best professionally. People will help you, support you, cooperate with you, share best practices. For instance, I am currently studying an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability at Cumbria University in the UK. This happened with Cisco’s support.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to join Cisco?
There are a lot of people out there who would love to be part of Cisco. I believe that being part of Cisco is a blessing. So my advice would be to do a lot of self-study, follow your interest and be passionate about what you’re doing. Do your job as if it were your hobby.

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