Cisco Pays Employees Not to Work at Cisco

How the Computer Networking Giant Encourages Non-Profit Service

CiscoA few years back, the Financial Times told the story of Peter Santis, a regional sales manager for computer networking giant, Cisco Systems. When he was let go, according to the article (links to articles dating before 2004 aren’t available on, Santis was presented with a unique proposition. Instead of walking away with a pink slip and a severance package, he was given the opportunity to remain a part of the Cisco family working for a non-profit.

Peter Tavernise, now a senior manager at Cisco’s Corporate Affairs Group, found himself in a similar position in 2001. When he was laid off, Tavernise was offered one-third of his former salary with full benefits to become a Cisco Fellow and spend the next year as planner and fundraiser for a North Carolina-based public affairs group. Since returning to the company, Tavernise has used what he did for that non-profit to help shape what he is doing now.

These days the program is called Cisco Leadership Fellows, and it is more focused on employees with potential as a way to, as the company asserts, bring people and technology together to make a difference and help a community prosper.

The Leadership Fellows program supports Cisco employees in local and global community organizations, where they provide anything from strategic planning to promoting best practices to employing organization and networking expertise. Benefitting non-profits range from Teachers Without Borders and the Grameen Foundation to the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, an organization focused on the promotion of scientific research and education in the state.

Valuing Employees
Employees with potential is a fairly obvious euphemism, but in affording opportunities like the Fellows program to employees they’d rather see inside the walls of their offices rather than inside those of their competitors, Cisco shows how much they value employees and human potential. It shows that a large company like Cisco cares enough to invest in its people, especially in an era where social, ethical, and environmental concerns are more and more aligned with career and professional ambitions. And the fellows for their part, learn to adapt, negotiate, collaborate, and consult in entirely new ways compared to the Cisco universe, which is a value not only to the individual but to the company down the road as well.

The Love Affair Between For- and Non-Profits
In as much as spending a year working for an organization benefits Cisco and its employees, this program represents a huge asset for the non-profits that benefit from it. They receive resources, expertise, and man-power that they would never achieve on their own. Si White, for example, director of finance for Cisco’s Global Tax and Customs Group, began working for the Grameen Foundation, and assumed the role of a CFO to ensure the financial stability of the microfinance organization when the non-profit’s previous executive resigned early into White’s fellowship.

It’s an ingenuous idea, and a clever way to value assets when economic bullishness prevents you from doing it in traditional ways. But more than that, it reflects well on the image of a company who recognizes its relationship with its community. It’s a surprise more companies haven’t begun similar programs…

(Or maybe they have… Readers: If you know of any other companies with like programs—either that find a creative way to engage those they’ve let go, or who have instituted programs like Leadership Fellows—let us know!)

Ashwin is an Associate Editor of Triple Pundit. He recently returned to the Bay Area after living in Argentina, where he wholeheartedly missed the Pacific Ocean. He is a freelance editor and media and marketing consultant.After a brief stint working in the wine world, when not staring blankly at a computer screen, you'll find him working on Anand Confections or at 826 Valencia, where he has been a long-time volunteer.

4 responses

  1. While the article points out how paying current or former employees can be used as a force for good, it fails to look at the way it could also be used as a corporate tool to pay employees to lobby or “research” on its behalf while avoiding corporate lobbying restrictions or disclosures.

    1. Hey George, that’s an interesting comment. While the scope of this article was focused on the intersection of a large corporation and non-profit work, there is a whole host of possibilities that corporate sponsorship and employee engagement can lead to. Can you think of any case-studies of this or any companies that do that?

  2. General motors has had a program for High Potential leaders for decades. Often reserved for children of current executives and graduates of the old GM Institute, these HiPots were rotated through the divisions, given international responsibility and eventually brought home to lead the company. DeLorean was one such.

  3. In addition to high potential employees, how about looking toward more seasoned employees to transition toward retirement (keeping benefits is a big deal to seniors) and by going to the not for profit, they create a space inside the company for one of those high potential “younsters”

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