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The Privacy Advisor | One Privacy Pro's Move to a New Kind of CPO Role Related reading: Dennedy Named Cisco VP and CPO



If there’s anyone who’s likely had to get picky and choosy about what lines to include and exclude on her resume, it’s Michelle Dennedy, CIPP/US, CIPM. After all, 8.5-by-11 isn’t a lot of space to tell a tale with as many chapters as comprise Dennedy’s professional success story.

Starting out as an IT litigator in the mid 1990s, Dennedy would take a position at Sun Microsystems and work as its chief governance officer and its chief privacy officer (CPO). After nine years, she moved to Oracle as its vice president of security and privacy solutions. She next became McAfee’s first CPO and, around the same time, founded the iDennedy Project—a consulting and advisory company helping to bring privacy and security products to market and to advance small information-based companies’ business objectives. 

Now she’s two weeks into her latest gig as Cisco’s VP and CPO.

“My title sounds very similar to outside ears, I think,” Dennedy said. “But this is going to be a really big, hairy evolutionary challenge, and I’m really excited. 

The role is different, Dennedy said, because she’s very intentionally not part of the company’s legal group and instead is reporting to “the first trust office that is truly operationalized as a business unit.”

“I don’t know any other business that has what this is,” she said.

What’s special about Cisco, she said, is it understands the value of data and aims to leverage that.

“I like the team, but the bigger thing is the transformation of every business unit,” she said. “Instead of counting beans, we’re starting to realize that the information economy is actually a real thing. There are businesses that are thriving on data. And those who deal with it efficiently in terms of trust, compliance and governance and a recognition that information that is ultimately acted upon has decision-making abilities over and impact over real humans, those are the companies that are going to win.”

She’ll sit under John Stewart, senior vice president and chief security and trust officer, who has expanded his role by forming Cisco’s Security and Trust Organization, which aims to take a holistic approach to security by integrating trustworthy policies, processes and technologies to protect the enterprise, its customers and its products from cyber threats.

Dennedy says Stewart, who she says has achieved “rock-star status in the info-security world,” and his team were a big part of the reason she felt pulled to the new job.

“In addition to him just being a great leader and friend, I was looking for someone nice,” she said. “There are some really smart people in Silicon Valley with some challenging personalities, and I was looking for a team that had ‘nice’ in there, in their core wheelhouse, which sounds so obvious but is so rare.”

Dennedy said her first couple of weeks at Cisco have been a  CPO’s dream come true of sorts; rather than begging for face time with the C-suite, they want time with her.

“The second person in my office was John Chambers,” she said, who is former Cisco CEO and now chairman. “I met with the chief marketing officer today. And I haven’t asked for any of these meetings. That’s what’s remarkable to me. This is so different.”

Where usually she’s telling the C-suite, “’Hey, privacy is a thing, and security is important,’ with this, it’s like, I can’t stop meeting with leadership and get down to the operations people.”

Once she gets past the initial meet-and-greets, Dennedy knows the recent Safe Harbor decision will have her busy. She’s already talking to the legal team on strategy and the data governance people about how to create a “unified maturity model across the business.”

She’s also recently met with the CTO team for its perspective on data, she said.

“This job is going to be very much a strategic job, unifying our impact and working very closely with client people,” she said. “Because if you don’t have the base layer, you can’t wear the pretty dress.” 

1 Comment

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  • comment Amalia Steiu • Nov 3, 2015
    Excellent article & Good luck Michelle - you are a Trail of Trust blazer. Come track to us at IAPP Canada May 10 in Toronto. We would love to hear from you. I'm  on the Canada Advisory Board so feel free to reach out. Amalia