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Need a Bubble of Protection? There’s a Cisco Team for That

Photo of Andrew Brown and Mark Eastus
Global Protective Services team members Andrew Brown and Mark Eastus

For sponsors like Cisco, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this past summer was an amazing opportunity to showcase what we can do but it also posed a host of safety challenges for everyone involved. Aside from the sheer scale and complexity of the event, the Games took place against a backdrop of social unrest. That required special care to ensure the safety of business travelers and guests—including top Cisco executives and members of the U.S. pro basketball delegations (the NBA and WNBA) participating in the tournament.

Fortunately, Cisco has a team dedicated to providing this protection. It’s known as Global Protective Services, or GPS. The eight-member team is agile, global in impact and almost completely unknown to most employees. It was due to the team’s experience, remarkable collaboration, meticulous planning and execution of services that the Rio Olympics passed virtually without incident for Cisco.

“We came out of there relatively unscathed, whereas other sponsors and their guests had many more challenges,” says John Endert, a GPS manager in San Jose who received a Connected Recognition Award from Chuck Robbins for his work in Rio.

What does GPS do? In a nutshell, the team:

  • Covers travel safety briefings for all Cisco employees;
  • Provides personal protection services for all Cisco employees and executives as appropriate when traveling;
  • Ensures event safety and security for all major Cisco events, such as GSX and Cisco Live, as well as other large and small events;
  • Performs risk analysis for countries and responds to global incidents as part of the core Incident Management Team;
  • Has investigative responsibilities, in partnership with the Human Resources and the Employee Relations teams to assist them with workplace civility, domestic violence, bullying in the workplace and so on.
Watching our backs at GSX in Las Vegas
Two of our protective experts David Sayner and John Endert
GPS team member Kyle Christensen at Casa Cisco during the Rio Olympics

The GPS team members draw on deep and varied backgrounds in law enforcement, the military and the corporate sector. They work closely together, complementing and supporting each other—in Endert's words, "cross-pollinating." They learn from each experience and share with the broader team so that everyone is prepared for what can come. If an incident occurs in the U.S. nighttime that affects EMEAR (Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia), team members in America will hand off to their counterparts across the pond, and vice versa.

"We are a global team," says GPS Director David Sayner, who recently moved to San Jose from England. "We expect any team member to be able to jump in at any place or time to deal with anything that happens." And the way they work together as a team allows them to do this.

A Resource for Every Employee

When asked what the best part of their job was, the team unanimously agreed that one of the biggest perks of the job is getting employees out of bad situations.

"They'll turn round and say, ‘I didn't even know you guys existed and you've really helped me out,'" Brown says. "That in itself is just fantastic!"

Importantly, the GPS team does not exist just for large events; its services extend to every one of you, Cisco's employees. In fact, one of GPS's greatest challenges is making employees aware that the team exists to help protect all employees in any work situation.

"A lot of people don't know we can help them," Sayner says. "We're not there to hinder them. We can offer expertise to help enable them in all situations."

Bubbles of Protection

For the GPS team, success means enabling the business to operate safely and with minimum disruption in sometimes very challenging environments. Sometimes that means putting what Sayner calls "the right bubble of protection" around employees when they travel. At the heart of the team is a strong bond of trust, which also extends to the Executive Leadership Team.

"We go to a lot of places with our executives and through that you get to build trust, and form a relationship," says GPS Manager Andrew Brown, who is based in the UK and covers EMEAR for the team.

The team reports directly to the CFO and then to the CEO, and has wide latitude to conduct investigations with the utmost confidence. The team originated about 20 years ago with Senior Director Chris Plummer, himself a former police officer and detective. Since then, GPS has seen some tumultuous times—such as 9/11, the Arab Spring events and conflicts in the Middle East.

"We traveled closely with our senior leadership right through that," Sayner says. "I personally travel with our CEO almost everywhere."

Continuous Improvement

The team works hard to increase the return on Cisco's investment into it, continually evaluating itself and looking for ways to improve. It also works to embrace new tools like Jive or Spark and promote its innovations to employees. Currently they are working with Cisco's medical provider, International SOS, to tailor their app to Cisco employees and make it applicable to business travelers globally.

"We're encouraged from the top down to get out there, to use the tools and connect with people," Brown says. "Cisco's Our People Deal connects nicely with what we do."

The team's workload can be grueling, with 20-hour days during major events like Cisco Live, and a travel schedule that can make balancing home life tricky. But the team members say they feel tremendously appreciated by the Executive Leadership Team.

"It would be really hard to do as much as we do without feeling appreciated, or if we had to struggle to be heard," Brown says. "Fortunately, we don't have to deal with that."

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this team is their humbleness. They have an enormous job, with incredible responsibilities and yet they are thrilled with the opportunity to help all of us out. These are real Cisco heroes.

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