Bring Your A-Game: Naveen Menon

by Marc Almagro
17 May 2021

Naveen Menon is is the President for ASEAN, Cisco Systems

A strategy/management consultant turned technology leader, Naveen Menon is the ASEAN head of a technology conglomerate that is involved in the development, manufacture and sale of networking hardware, software, telecoms equipment, and other high-tech products and services.

“Cisco is the worldwide leader in technology that powers the Internet,” says Menon. “It inspires new possibilities by reimagining your applications, securing your data, transforming your infrastructure, and empowering your teams for a global and inclusive future.” Not surprisingly, Menon’s latest project is an inclusive recovery program for SMEs under Cisco.

 “The pandemic has impacted small and medium business in a massive way. I believe the move to hybrid working was a seismic and irreversible shift in our work practices. However, this shift is not equitable for all players in the ecosystem. Small and medium sized businesses are especially hard hit as I have personally witnessed.” Cisco, a company that runs web conferencing and videoconferencing app, Webex, is 100 per cent behind finding ways to support small and medium business owners take advantage of their hybrid working arrangements and enable their business to grow despite the obvious challenges ahead.

What are your prime objectives for this task or project?
We are putting a lot of effort into enabling small and medium businesses take advantage of the possibilities that secure remote work can offer. For example, I lead our business in 10 countries, but most of our workflows are digital now and customer/partner engagement is led through Webex. I have also found that we can sign formal documents and contracts digitally and thereby secure the flow of capital through the business. My prime objective is to better understand customers’ needs and identify ways in which we can help them drive profitable growth through the end-to-end digitization of their business.

What do you focus on and how do you do it?
At work, my role is primarily geared around four things: Delivering an unmatched customer and partner experience; driving profitable growth and investments; inspiring and leading effective teams; and instilling a wider commitment to sustainable and ethical leadership.

I like to focus on just a few things, and they typically involve people. My belief is that great people make great companies; if you can find and groom top talent, strong business results will follow naturally. I also like to focus on external engagements, either with customers, partners or government leaders. I have found working in Southeast Asia very rewarding, especially on the national level, as most of the government leaders I know are accessible and willing to learn from the private sector. Finally, I think it’s important to have a sense of purpose and fun in the team. Your team needs to see the ‘dent’ they are making on the planet but at the same time they need to also relax and enjoy their day-to-day lives.

It is important to recognise that I don’t think I would be successful in business if I didn’t have the tremendous support from my family. Working for a large corporation, or in management consulting before that, is a significant commitment and it requires a great deal of sacrifice to be made from my wife and children.

What other commitments keep you busy at the moment?
I am a member of the board for the Cisco Foundation, a distinct legal entity, where we make cash grants to nonprofits and NGOs and focus our support on areas where we can make the biggest impact: education, economic empowerment, and critical human needs.

I volunteer as a member of the Global Future Council on Data Policy for the World Economic Forum. I am responsible for collaborating with other global organizations to identify ways the world can capture the untapped potential in data, and help solve societies' biggest problems or create new economic value.

I am also a member of the Young President’s Organisation (YPO), which is a leadership community for chief executives worldwide. The YPO organizes outstanding activities that enable me to grow professionally and personally.

How do you prepare for the daily grind?
When I feel that my day has become a ‘grind’ I usually try and take some time off! Usually, I am excited and literally bounce out of bed at 6:15 am! After a cup of tea, I make sure to spend time with my wife and three boys before school starts. I block off time at the gym on Monday and Thursday morning. During weekdays, I make sure to get 10 minutes silently by myself. I listen to the latest news and get some music into my ears before I start my meetings at 8:30 or 9:00 am.

How do you keep your momentum?
Momentum is directly proportional to motivation. My motivation levels are the highest when I am physically and mentally at my best. Physically, I am committed to playing competitive sports and building strength and flexibility. I am also very conscious of my food choices and ensure I am well hydrated. At Cisco we believe in developing ‘The Whole You’ (You at Your Best) at home and work. We have built a partnership with Jessie Pavelka and his team brings a holistic wellness programme that lets each person understand what wellness means to them. The program framework is around the ‘four elements’: Eat, Sweat, Think and Connect. 

How do you know you’re performing well?
I know I am performing well when I can balance different roles in my life without feeling the strain physically or emotionally, and when my team is doing well. At work, we rely heavily on ‘employee check-ins’ with the Team Space app – this gives me valuable insights into the state of my team and people. People development is my huge passion, so I always try to make sure that I can spend time on mentoring and coaching employees.


In the Zone

Current Project: Cisco’s Inclusive Recovery Strategy

Peers & Mentors: Irving Tan, John Kurtz, Mark Page

Inspiration: My wife, Sumitra Pasupathy

Personal Social Media Channels: naveenmenon on LinkedIn


The Workout

Daily Routine: Gym on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, fresh air walks in the evening.

Lectures: Milken Asia Summit, where we spoke about the opportunities that 5G will bring to Southeast Asian economies.



Newscast: New York Times, The Economist, CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC

Podcast: Trevor Noah, BBC HARDtalk, The Economist Radio

Books: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Social Media Diet: The Late Late Show, Paul Krugman, ZDNet



Music: Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, AC/DC

General Entertainment: I can watch anything – from mindless comedies to political drama, and dark science fiction.