As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Calista Redmond.
Calista Redmond is the CEO of RISC-V International with a mission to expand and engage RISC-V stakeholders, compel industry adoption, and increase visibility and opportunity for RISC-V within and beyond RISC-V International. Prior to RISC-V International, Calista held a variety of roles at IBM, including Vice President of IBM Z Ecosystem where she led strategic relationships across software vendors, system integrators, business partners, developer communities, and broader engagement across the industry. Focus areas included execution of commercialization strategies, technical and business support for partners, and matchmaker to opportunities across the IBM Z and LinuxOne community. Calista’s background includes building and leading strategic business models within IBM’s Systems Group through open source initiatives including OpenPOWER, OpenDaylight, and Open Mainframe Project. For OpenPOWER, Calista was a leader in drafting the strategy, cultivating the foundation of partners, and nurturing strategic relationships to grow the org from zero to 300+ members. While at IBM, she also drove numerous acquisition and divestiture missions, and several strategic alliances. Prior to IBM, she was an entrepreneur in four successful start-ups in the IT industry. Calista holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was driven to technology as it is the fundamental building block to improve society and connect communities.
That is what led me to open source and since, I have invested my career in identifying and pursuing relationships between hardware companies and other stakeholders for mutual, strategic benefit. The relationships have ranged wildly from acquisition and divestiture, to innovation and supply partners, to leveraging for broader industry adoption. I have been most energized in roles that engage all stakeholders, from university students to large multi-nationals, for the broader benefit of the industry. This brought me to several leadership roles bringing open source to hardware and cultivating communities of like-minded organizations. T
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The appetite of our community for open collaboration and cultivation of open building blocks for innovation is what I find most interesting to follow within RISC-V. Every day brings more opportunities and we continue to see expanded interest in the growing RISC-V community. . Our community has sprung up 30 local and regional groups around the world, attracting thousands of engineers from India, Europe, Asia, North America and more. We have been able to expand these regional meetups even further when the pandemic forced the meetups to move virtual. This enabled them to remove geographical barriers and invite anyone from around the world to attend the meetups online, even if it was hosted in London, for example. While we didn’t anticipate this online format, it has expanded the open collaboration that benefits open source technologies and innovations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think it would be great to have a list of funniest moments in RISC-V history, perhaps a bloopers real. I think my challenge here is the approach of humility that we all take in our pursuit of RISC-V. While I’m sure there’s been a gaff along the way, I truly can’t think of a time I’d consider a mistake. That said, I do always wish I had a stronger talent for remembering names for those otherwise awkward introductions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father built his career in public school administration. As a school district superintendent, he was attuned to the needs of the community, students, families, teachers and the school board while laying the foundation for the future of each graduating class. I admire his ability to connect with the many stakeholders he served, leveraging his strengths as a leader with humility, passion, confidence and discipline. His commitment and success brought him admiration, recognition and scores of people who wanted to work with him, talk to him, gain his perspective and more. My father fixed problems, elevated families and inspired students. As I pursue my own career, I think about his outreach to all corners of his community as I serve the open source hardware community. There is so much we can do when we pursue it together!
As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
There are a few important things to do in preparing for an important event, whether it’s a discussion, a talk or some other engagement. First, we must prepare. Learn all you can about the audience, topic, decision, etc. to understand the important factors to address head-on. Second, rehearse. Walk through the key points and net them out to succinct and repeatable messages. You need your stakeholders to be able to recount the key points as well as you delivered them. Finally, you need to deliver and follow-up. Ensure that you have cleared time around the event to be there early and stay late, as well as to ensure you are in a great mindset to deliver and stay on point through the time. The follow-up comes even before you’re done speaking as your share with your stakeholders the specific actions you’d like them to take.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity brings out a multitude of perspectives that stem from the differences we all have as humans. Our life experiences are even more diverse when we come from different cultures, countries, creeds, races, generations and more. This diversity then leads to greater creativity and innovation, where industry disruption may genuinely occur.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Advocacy happens at all levels of collaboration and is fundamental to creating an inclusive and welcoming engagement. This may be as easy as inviting comments from those less apt to speak up in a meeting, or may be as difficult as directly confronting negativity, alienation, or divisive behaviors in a group. While it is important to lead by example, it is a task for everyone — not merely the leader. To drive for representation and diversity, we must all actively seek and advocate for underrepresented individuals to engage in our work and be heard. This may be reaching out for speaker diversity at a conference, mentoring and welcoming others into our workgroups, or perhaps taking time to build trust in all of our relationships. It’s about us taking a deliberate action to be better each day.
In a few words, explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
A true executive should act no different than any other leader in guiding the success of its mission. The differences may be prescribed in the role responsibilities given by the organization.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The most effective leaders do not see themselves by title, but rather have driving passion for their mission with an ability to lead and inspire others. The CEO or executive is not above others, but rather plays a role on the team that may range from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization at any point in time. It is through modeling behaviors, strategic thinking, and disciplined action for others that true leaders emerge, regardless of title.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women executives often need to prove themselves prior to being heard. While many are very good at presenting her perspective with authority and credibility, many women face a longer road than some of their male counterparts. I believe all voices must be heard, whether someone is new to the team or a seasoned expert. I suggest all women own their voice and approach opportunity with authority and credibility. Listen, engage and assert your view. While you’re at it, be sure to lift others up and invite engagements and perspectives that may not immediately contribute. It’s up to everyone to challenge and change the dialogue to invite and encourage all points of view.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The global momentum of RISC-V has taken me by surprise. It is growing at a rapid pace across industries, geographies, and stakeholders — from students to industry luminaries, from start-ups to multi-nationals. I am truly inspired and are underpinning the open era of computing.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t believe there is a set of traits that would determine success as a leader and I also don’t think becoming an executive should be a career goal. The title you have matters less than the impact you strive to achieve. In other words, aspiring to effect positive global change by becoming an expert in your craft or leader in your field is a noble career goal.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice is to be genuine. When you show up with authentic passion, vision and discipline you become the role model others want to work with. Many individuals, including myself, have left jobs based purely on the people at that company or organization. When you create a culture of authenticity and passion for the mission, you have the capability to inspire and progress in ways that may otherwise appear impossible.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have spent much of my career fostering relationships between organizations to further their technical missions and commercial success. During the past 10 years, I’ve taken a stronger approach in bringing open source ideology together with global standards practices for hardware. The momentum we’re building has fostered open collaboration around the world and within many industries. I’m proud of the work open source technology is doing to level the playing field for companies big and small to have accessible architecture to participate in the next generation of technology innovation.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be proactive. It is important to make a conscious effort to create plan and set of actions to help achieve your goals and get what you want. Sometimes you need to be proactive in order to find the support and guidance from a mentor that could help you grow in your career.
- Be authentic. Creating an authentic environment, helps to drive engagement, innovation and loyalty amongst your colleagues. This is also a helpful trait as people grow into leadership roles.
- Reach beyond your boundaries. If you see an opportunity to improve processes, better serve a client or automate the mundane go ahead and do it! You’ll find recognition for your efforts that may easily lead to your next career move.
- Find a solution. When you are surfaced with a challenge beyond your role or knowledge, think outside the box and consider new solutions and approaches that you can propose. You can grow from participating in designing the solution.
- Be a team player. No one can succeed in isolation. The best workers engage and collaborate with their teams in meaningful ways. Identify the perspectives, skills and dependencies that are crucial to the success you’re aiming for. Engage deeply with those who can support your mission. When you lift up those around you, it will reflect back in the support they offer you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We all have a different starting point and different passions. I would like to inspire a platform across universities and public schools to infuse technology into all areas of study. There are organizations like Discovery Education that have been instrumental in bringing high caliber learning and meaningful experiences to the classroom to inspire the next generation of leaders. RISC-V International recently launched various two free online training courses to help individuals get started with the RISC-V ISA. The courses provide prospective open source enthusiasts a look into various aspects of understanding the RISC-V ecosystem, the RISC-V specifications, how to curate and develop RISC-V specifications, how to familiarize themselves with a variety of emerging technologies supporting an open source hardware ecosystem, and more.
At local levels, organizations have initiated technical on-the-job training together with universities to bring skill and career development programs via apprenticeships to underserved populations. I would love to see a movement to grow technical programs for students at scale.
Please give your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I do not have a specific quote I hold onto, but rather believe that we can all have the greatest impact when we foster the success of others. This is true when leading a team, participating in a group, engaging with a stakeholder and in the many relationships we cultivate personally and professionally.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Barrack Obama has been an influential important modern leader of our time. Even after his presidency, he continues to inspire us all to be the best versions of ourselves while lifting one another up. I would be honored to have time together with him to share ideas on engaging young people in pursuit of STEM careers.