Leading from the front: a profile of Sven Jirgal, VP and COO of Cisco Capital

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Sven Jirgal, vice president and chief operating office of Cisco Capital, the global captive finance subsidiary of technology provider, Cisco, stands at the very crux of a major social and business revolution in technology finance.

Earlier this month (April) Cisco confirmed that it will once again be hosting the Internet of Things World Forum, a global event that serves to unite thought leaders, business leaders and practitioners in business, industry, government and academia – as the development of the emerging Internet of Things market grows apace.

According to Cisco research, over 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, creating vast opportunities for the Internet of Things to transform businesses and industries by re-inventing business processes, operational efficiencies and customer service innovations. These opportunities exist in markets such as manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, utilities, healthcare, sports and entertainment, government, education and retail.

Within Cisco Capital, Jirgal has responsibility for three principal lines of business. These are Technology Financing which offers financing services to Cisco customers, Channel Financing which provides credit lines and payment terms beyond Cisco’s standard net 30-day term, and Cisco Certified Refurbished Equipment, which manages the resale of the company’s re-manufactured products.

Starting point

Jirgal’s current role, which he has held for some nine months, is the latest post within a career that has brought him once again back to Geneva, Switzerland – his original career starting point.

Born in Germany, his father’s work requirements brought the family from Germany to Switzerland. There he attended the city’s International School where he learnt fluent English.
Later he attended another school where French was the required language – the end result was a young man fluent in three crucial international languages.

He attended the University of Geneva where he achieved a degree in business & international finance. “Although I didn’t have a clear idea of any career path,” he explained, “I had always been fascinated by international commerce and business. Since I was not Swiss, and therefore would be at a disadvantage in the promotion stakes, I resisted the temptation to join a Swiss Bank and, instead, joined Hewlett-Packard (HP) as a financial analyst in Japan. Despite the significant cultural differences I was convinced that the move would give me some valuable international experience, help me find my first permanent role and help to differentiate – and challenge – me.”

Strong business culture

In November 1992, working on the theory that although it was “good to count the money – it was even better to go out and make the money” he joined HP’s Geneva office as sales and marketing manager. Later he was promoted to Measurement finance sales manager at HP Financial Services for Europe and Asia.

In November 1999 this latter business was spun off through an Initial Public Offering to form Agilent Technologies where, as general manager, Jirgal assumed responsibility for the company’s worldwide financing business.

He was impressed with HP’s traditionally strong business culture. “It operated an open-door policy,” he stressed. “There was a firm hierarchy, but it was very open and transparent. There was total respect for individuals and their integrity. The long-term focus was on customers and what the company could do for them.”

He added: “I learned early on that, when providing financial services, it is crucial to concentrate less on selling the finance product than on solving the customer’s problems. In that way price becomes far less important in the negotiations.”

Private label program

In 2001 he was promoted once again. “The company wanted to develop a vendor finance program but avoid the necessary cash tied up on its balance sheet. The decision was made to outsource the captive finance with CIT via a private label program. This time I moved the family to Atlanta, US, where I assumed the position of president, Agilent Financial Services with responsibility for all functional areas including finance, sales, operations, risk management and collections. The company had a presence in over 15 countries globally.”

By April 2004 Jirgal felt the call once again for Geneva. He joined GE Commercial Finance as strategic relationship manager where he was responsible for all GE’s large, pan-European equipment finance vendor programs in the office equipment, IT and construction industries.  Three years later, however, there was another country move as he became GE’s commercial director UK dealing with vendor and direct leasing, inventory finance, corporate and fleet leasing and asset backed lending.

“It proved to be a very diverse role,” he said, “with a wide range of financial products. Six Sigma was one of the company’s principal tools for business improvement and I found that those employees who had worked within its disciplines developed logical thought processes – and were good value in my team.”

In 2008 the worldwide recession hit. “It was a difficult time for GE, which was forced to shrink its balance sheet, and a significant downturn in trade in the UK. However, I believe that it is in such times that you learn much about your business – and about yourself.”

The move to Cisco

The move to Cisco Capital EMEA as senior director came about in January 2011.

Jirgal explained: “Although it had been established some 18 years ago to support its manufacturing parent, it had been very much sitting on the side-lines of the parent and not really fully embracing its role. However, when Kristine (Kris) Snow was appointed Cisco Capital’s president in 2009 things began to change.”

Snow had a career background in vendor finance including time with Sun Microsystems and more latterly with CIT Group where she was president of Global Vendor Finance. She also served as board director at the US Equipment Leasing and Finance Association and as a member of the association’s Board Executive Committee.

One year later Jirgal was promoted to vice president Worldwide Sales & Marketing and in July 2013 to his present position. During this time the parent concentrated far more resources in the direction of its captive subsidiary.

Leveraging the captive

“The first thing I did was to work at developing the parent’s need to leverage its captive,” he said. “I made a huge effort at making sure that I dedicated a lot of time with the manufacturer – and became a part of the parent’s sales teams. There was an increased alignment with several of Cisco’s business functions including, in the post –recession environment – close liaison with the parent’s regulatory and compliance team.”

Currently Cisco Capital has a balance sheet of $10bn, “all funded through cash”, and enjoyed double–digit growth in 2013. It employs around 700 staff including support functions such as finance and accounting. There is a strong customer focus and staff are trained to work closely and dedicate time listening to their customers. “We don’t shy away from discipline,” Jirgal stressed, “but strive to make sure we have the right people in the right places.”

The Cisco group company culture is such that it frequently wins “best place to work” awards and indeed has just come in pole position in the large companies’ section of the 2014 Best Companies to Work For in Switzerland accolade.

Looking forward, Cisco is planning a range of profitable opportunities for the future. These include cloud and the unified data center, the mobility market transition and next-generation video.

Meanwhile the company is investing for growth in services, security and emerging markets. Longer term the company is aiming for a greater focus on opportunities in the Internet of Things. Jirgal predicts that bringing “everything” online will create significant opportunities for organizations, communities and countries to obtain greater value from networked connections.

“We will be dealing,” he said, “with companies that consume technology as well as those in the background that allow technology to happen. This shift will be the greatest challenge. Our team is planning to operate in areas that traditional lessors have not operated previously.”

Personally he is at pains to stress that today he is in “a personal sweet spot”, back in Geneva with his wife and two children. “My wife is my professional mover,” he laughed, “and we have moved professionally six times over the years. She has encouraged me to choose different career moves from the beginning – including the original move to Japan.”

It is clear that Jirgal’s management style is, like the man himself, open, straight, honest and always leading from the front. These are attributes which, taken together with his determination to satisfy his customers’ needs by actively listening to them, are testament to the success of his career to date.