From being one of the few women at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi way back in the 1980s to becoming one of the most celebrated names in Silicon Valley, India-born Padmasree Warrior has made it big in an industry almost entirely dominated by men.
Legend has it that Cisco’s chief executive officer John Chambers relentlessly pursued her for almost a year before Warrior agreed to join the company as its chief technology officer (CTO) in December 2007. She was subsequently given additional charge of heading strategy for the American technology major.
Her nearly eight-year stint will end later this year.
On June 4, Cisco announced that Warrior, 54, will leave the firm in September. Till then, she’ll continue in a strategic advisory position to finish key projects.
“Padmasree is a highly respected leader… She is well known across the industry and the globe, and has been a champion internally for innovation, strategic partnerships, investments and mergers and acquisitions,” Chuck Robbins, who will become the CEO of Cisco from June 25, wrote in a blog post announcing the exit.
Warrior’s departure comes at a time when Cisco is transitioning to a new CEO, who recently announced a restructuring of the company’s brass with the appointment of 10 new executive leaders. The firm has not given any official reason for Warrior’s exit.
“I am overwhelmed by the love, support and confidence from all of you on Twitter + email. Thanks to each and every one of you. You inspire me,” Warrior posted on Twitter after her move was made public.
With her exit from Cisco, California-based Warrior is likely to be a highly sought-after candidate for senior leadership roles at top firms. Already, she is reportedly considering job offers from a venture capital firm.
Named the 84th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine this year, Warrior was born to a Telugu family and raised in Vijayawada, a city in Andhra Pradesh. She is now an American citizen.
In 1982, Warrior went to study chemical engineering at IIT, Delhi—no ordinary feat three decades ago, considering women students at IITs are a tiny percentage even today.
“When you go to an IIT, which is very hard to get into, you go thinking that you are the smartest. And once you go there, you realise you’re not. I think that’s the first experience in humility—realising that true scientists and technologists are always learning,” she said in a 2014 interview.
Warrior then moved to the US, where she read for a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Cornell University.
It was during her master’s that she was first exposed to microchips; Warrior specialised in electronic material. Her research work involved finding ways to make materials that would create semi-conductors. “That’s how I ended up in a job at Motorola Semiconductor,” Warrior explained.
Even though Warrior planned on returning to academics and pursuing a PhD after her first job, she ended up staying with Motorola for 23 years.
From her first role—running a semi-conductor factory for the mobile phone maker—Warrior rose the ranks to serve various leadership roles at the company. She is counted among the highest-ranking female executives in Motorola’s history.
Warrior is widely credited with Motorola’s focus around “seamless mobility” approach: The concept of having uninterrupted communication from any location over any device. The idea, however, wasn’t quite successfully executed, and Motorola later dropped it.
In her last job at Motorola, Warrior was the corporate vice-president and CTO of the company’s semiconductor products sector.
When she joined as the CTO of Cisco, the San Jose-headquartered company was in the throes of rebuilding its image from a staid legacy establishment to a young consumer-friendly technology firm. Over the years, Warrior has been at the forefront of transforming Cisco and building the company’s strength around its focus area of internet of things—the concept of connecting things ranging from soccer balls to household gadget through the internet.
Named among the top 15 most influential women driving innovation (and revenue) in corporate America by PINK magazine in 2008, Warrior is a member of the board of trustees for Cornell University. She also serves on the boards of cloud storage company Box, and American clothing and accessories retailer Gap.
She is among the most famous women technology leaders on Twitter, with over 1.6 million followers.
For the last several years, Warrior spends almost every Saturday practising what she calls “digital detox”—where she stays away from all work-related communication for the entire day. “I am online but to do fun things. I think it makes me a better leader because it allows me to just step back, and return with a fresh point of view and a different perspective,” she said in an interview in 2013.
In several interviews, Warrior has said that managing home and office was never a balancing act for her. After all, she managed the challenges of being a new mother even as she managed the floor of a semiconductor factory. And her mantra is simple: “…integrate the two.”
After shattering multiple glass ceilings, Warrior is also an ardent supporter of women in technology.
“I think the numbers (of women in technology) are still pretty sadly low…at around 20-30% globally…Someday I’d like to have half of our workforce to be women. I think we are far away from that, but there is a lot of talk about the issue, which I hope will accelerate that change,” Warrior, who has one son, said in a recent interview.
Quartz has reached out to Warrior for an interview request, and we will update the story when we hear from her.