5 Things To Know About New AWS Channel Chief Ruba Borno

Borno says her drive to reach her full potential is fueled by her parents’ experience coming to the U.S. as refugees who left behind everything but their integrity, education and work ethic.

Ruba Borno, Amazon Web Services’ incoming global channel chief, comes to the industry’s largest cloud computing provider with more than six years of experience at Cisco Systems, a doctoral degree and a responsibility—driven by her family story—to reach her potential.

Borno had been working as senior vice president and general manager of global customer experience centers at Cisco, the San Jose, Calif.-based company known for its highly regarded channel partner program.

She will now officially replace current AWS channel chief Doug Yeum beginning Dec. 6, when he moves over to help build a new business on the retail side of parent company Amazon.com.

Here are five things to know about Borno, from her background at Cisco and her belief in leading with empathy, to her doctoral studies, work on a presidential task force and how her experience as a refugee has shaped the way she approaches opportunities.

“Me and all of my sisters … feel an obligation that when we have an opportunity, to really take advantage of it,” Borno said during a podcast earlier this year. “We have a responsibility to reach our potential and work really hard and to do the best job that we can. But, more importantly, it’s also that if we climb a ladder, to leave that ladder so that others can climb up as well.”

Borno’s Cisco Experience

Borno joined Cisco in mid-2015, one of five women and five men—and the youngest among them—named as then-new CEO Chuck Robbins’ “next-generation executive leadership team” to help lead the technology company into the digital age.

Borno was hired as vice president of strategic initiatives and chief of staff to Robbins, joining Cisco from Boston Consulting Group, where she was a principal and leader in the Boston-based management consulting firm’s technology, media and telecommunications, and people and organization practice groups.

“She has basically helped companies change,” a Cisco spokesperson said at the time of Borno’s hiring. “When you need to reorganize and realign a business around a new goal or new set of priorities, or to be leaner, operating more efficiently—that’s what she’s really good at.”

Borno viewed the role as “an incredible opportunity to transform the company and work with leaders and think about our shifting business model,” she said during a March “Roar” podcast hosted by Lakecia Gunter, Microsoft’s vice president and general manager of IoT global and strategic engagement.

Borno led business strategy and planning across Cisco, provided market insight to support its investment and technology strategies, and informed Robbins’ agenda, according to her LinkedIn page. In her three-plus years in the role, Borno worked with the leadership team to develop the company’s five-pillar strategy that defined Cisco’s top priorities. She spearheaded key growth initiatives, including a unified approach to its competitive program, an elevated conversation on Cisco’s machine learning/artificial intelligence position within its ecosystem, a simplified cross-functional portfolio, a partnership that launched Cisco Hybrid Platform for Google Cloud, and the incubation of Cisco’s connected car business unit.

“Ruba also reshaped the company’s strategic business planning process across the entire portfolio in support of Cisco’s own digital transformation and that of our customers and partners,” her LinkedIn page states.

Borno became vice president and general manager of Cisco managed services (CMS) in 2018, running a global team that helped Cisco’s most strategic customers reduce cost inefficiencies, maximize system availability and improve security and compliance while accelerating digital transformation and business outcomes. She oversaw business development, customer engagement, product management, global delivery, operations and planning, and the platform architecture and engineering teams.

“Under her leadership, CMS began turning customized offers into repeatable, automated solutions sold through partners,” her LinkedIn page states. “This drove down costs, sped up time to value realization and created new revenue streams.”

Coming To The U.S. As A Refugee

Borno and her family came to the U.S. as refugees granted political asylum from the first Gulf War, and their story is at the core of what motivates her every single day, she said in a June “No Turning Back” podcast with the McChrystal Group, a global advisory services firm.

Her family was living in Kuwait when Iraq invaded the country in 1990 and staged a seven-month military occupation.

“I’m Palestinian, my family’s Palestinian, and we were stateless, because Palestinians weren’t granted citizenship,” Borno said during the podcast. “And when [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he decreed that those [harboring] American citizens could be shot on sight. One of my sisters was born in the United States, so the U.S. embassy called my parents and said, ‘You’ve got three days to decide if you want to evacuate and move to the United States.’”

Her parents had four girls under the age of 10 when, with all of their assets frozen, they decided to leave their home and life behind in Kuwait, according to Borno.

“The reality is for Palestinians, there was really nowhere to go,” she said in the podcast. “The U.S. accepted us. In fact, the day that we became U.S. citizens, my father—who was stateless his entire life—said, ‘I finally feel like a human being and recognized as a human being.’”

Her parents came to the U.S. with only their integrity, education and work ethic, according to Borno, and they instilled in her that, in addition to family, that’s all one needs.

“They came to the United States and gave everything up just for us to have opportunity,” she said in the podcast. “And so I do believe that if you’ve got the opportunity and you’ve got the capability, then you have a responsibility to achieve your potential.”

That’s what has driven Borno to take everything as far as she can go, she said—from earning a doctorate to pushing herself in the professional field and the technology industry.

“It motivates me to do my best,” she said. “But, more importantly, it motivates me to help others achieve their potential and do their best.”

She Holds A Doctorate In Electrical Engineering

Borno earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan after receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering there and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

In her doctorate dissertation, titled “Transpiration as a Mechanism for Mechanical and Electrical Energy Conversion,” focused on the design, build and test of micro electro mechanical systems and microfluidic devices for energy conversion. Borno’s research was featured in Wired, Business Week, New Scientist, CNN Money, Conservation and other publications, according to her LinkedIn page.

The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering recognized Borno with the Marian Sarah Parker Prize for being the Most Outstanding Woman Graduate Student, according to her LinkedIn page.

Borno was a graduate researcher and Intel Ph.D. fellow at the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems, for which the University of Michigan was the lead institution.

Presidential Task Force

Borno worked at Boston Consulting Group for nearly seven years before joining Cisco.

When she started at the Boston-based management consulting firm in 2008, one of her first projects was working with former President Barack Obama’s Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry. A group of cabinet-level and other officials, the task force was formed in early 2009 and tasked with dealing with the financial bailouts of automakers Chrysler and General Motors. Borno’s work included analyzing the research and development value that Italian automaker Fiat brought to Chrysler after they unveiled plans to form a global alliance, Borno said during the “Roar” podcast.

“We were providing recommendations to the task force on potentially whether or not to provide funds either to Chrysler or Fiat and bail out that particular portion of the automotive industry,” Borno said. “We had just a few weeks to do that work, and it taught me, frankly, the power of hypothesis-driven analysis and doing it with speed, because big decisions can be made very, very quickly with as good of information as you have. We had to refine our hypothesis every few days.”

That way of working was the opposite of what was required for her doctorate dissertation, which necessitated very deep analysis and validating information to a very high degree, Borno said.

“That really translates to the business world,” she said. “Sometimes we have to make big decisions with very little information—this is my best answer at the time; if I had a little bit more time, these are the two additional things I would check, and then keep going that way. In the past year, our reality has changed so many times that I’ve been able to reflect on that concept of what’s my best answer today.”

Leading With Empathy And How Cisco Engineers Rose To The Occasion

From February 2020 through last week, Borno had served as senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s global customer experience centers, which deliver technical support, professional services, managed services, customer success and hardware and component repairs and replacements.

“Our No. 1 job on my team is our customer experience,” she told Gunter during the “Roar” podcast. “But the only way we are going to get there is through the employee experience and employees being engaged, and we have to do that by understanding each other’s experiences. In general, people just want to be heard, they want to be valued, they want to be acknowledged. Leading with empathy means truly listening to them rather than just waiting for our turn to talk, and making sure that we’re addressing the things that they care about the most.”

From a customer perspective, Borno said that means not solving what Cisco thought were customers’ problems, but saying, “Hey customer, this is what I heard from you. Does that reflect what you believe to be the challenges? OK, here’s how I think we’re going to tackle them, do you agree?”

“We’ve got to make sure our employees are in a state where they can do that—they are engaged, they know what the ultimate outcome is that they’re trying to achieve and so they’re also learning and hearing from our customers and providing an ultimate experience,” Borno said during the podcast. “Empathy makes us a better company. It makes us better at delivering our customer outcomes, and it helps our employees actually collaborate with each other so much better.”

The value of empathy among employees played out at Cisco in April 2020, Borno said, when the coronavirus pandemic forced people to work from home. That prompted massive demand for Webex by Cisco, the company’s enterprise offering for videoconferencing, online meetings, screen share and webinars.

“We had half a billion meeting attendees versus 160 million attendees just two months earlier, which meant more customers and more demand for support for first-time users,” Borno said. “My … technical support team had their demand increased significantly, and it’s not like we can add talent as quickly as the demand went up.”

Borno and her team asked for help from the rest of Cisco and thought maybe a handful of people would step up, she said, but they had more than 1,800 volunteer engineers across the company raise their hand to step in.

“They handled a full one-third of our cases for several months before returning to their day jobs—that’s literally our pre-COVID volume that was handled by the volunteer engineers,” she said. “It’s that empathy, not just with the customer and recognizing that these customers needed to be able to do their jobs, but empathy with their colleagues.”

The experience unleashed the potential of Cisco, according to Borno.

“We had so much innovation going on that was, I would say, hindered by bureaucracy and processes and ‘let’s pilot’ and ‘test and iterate,’” she said. “The urgency of what we had to go through with the additional volume with COVID, actually caused us to say, ‘You know what? Unleash all of the innovation. Let’s just try it all, because we’re going to learn very quickly if it’s working or not.’”