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She Wrote the Book: Cisco's Ballard Puts Consumer In Tech

1/24/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Peggy Ballard believes that in the business world, we're all the same age: Adult. Likewise for gender: Human. For a woman who began her elegant trailblazing through the technology sector in the 1970s, her wisdom bears notice. 1396927554

She's learned, for instance, that planning trumps worrying — and to not bring work home, if you're not going to do it. “Otherwise, you'll feel guilty in the morning that you didn't do it,” she writes in her 2000 book, You're Already a Success: Thoughts on Beginning Your New Career.

Her intent at the time was to share what she's learned over more than three decades in the technology sector with her niece, Laura Cobb Prediletto, a then-college senior about to enter the business world.

Since then, the book has been reprinted in Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. An updated version is in the works.

Her book, five inches square and 92 pages, brims with the wisdom of a good aunt: from the practical (“Keep your desk and office neat and clean”) to the understated (“'No' is a complete sentence”).

“All my friends wanted copies,” beams Prediletto. “Peggy was always the cool aunt. She knew about modems and the Internet way before anyone else.”

Today, Ballard, as senior director of worldwide service provider marketing at Cisco, oversees the strategic and tactical orchestration of all tradeshows, events, and programs involving broadband service providers, as well as Web-based and Web 2.0-based marketing. Her ability to find what's customer-relevant in new technologies; focused generosity as a mentor and leader; and ability to exemplify grace in everything she does, has put Ballard in this year's class of Wonder Women.

Ballard grew up in Greenville, S.C., one of four daughters to a mother and father who were both successful in business. She graduated with a Business Education degree from the University of Georgia in 1970.

At South Fulton High School in Atlanta, she participated in one of the first integrated scholastic programs, using her creative flare to help racially disadvantaged students learn the real world. “I had them open up their own business. They'd get a paycheck, and learn about Social Security and taxes and how to handle a checkbook,” she said. “It was really a wonderful time.”

But the itch to go farther called. In 1977, she joined Savin, an office-equipment manufacturer known mostly for its plain-paper copiers. There, another native talent emerged: The ability to find the consumer angle in new technologies. In this case, word processing.

At the time, Savin was about to enter the market against IBM's new magnetic-tape Selectric typewriter.

Savin's plan was to launch with a retrofit for existing IBM Selectrics. Plunk the Selectric onto a special base plate, add a console to record keystrokes and voilà: Back-spacing and corrections. “It was clever, because secretaries wanted to keep their Selectrics,” and not learn a whole new machine, recalls Ballard, who developed the marketing of the system.

From Savin, Ballard participated in the rise of the dialup computer modem at Hayes Microcomputer Products. “I saw them through from 300 baud to 56 Kilobits per second,” which is as far as Hayes went before the company foundered.

It was at Hayes that Ballard augmented her technology-marketing career with public relations. She immediately phoned her sister, Sallie, a journalist in New York. “She said two things: One, always ask the deadline, and meet it. Two, never lie. And that's served me very well.”

Ballard's experiences at Savin moved her to California, London and New York City. Nonetheless, she was pleased to negotiate an exit package that landed her back in Atlanta. She joined Scientific-Atlanta in 1995, where she remained through its 2005 acquisition by Cisco Systems.

“Positioning herself with Cisco in a broader role was key to also helping [her staff],” said Beth Pollard, a colleague of Ballard's [and the only other ranking female at S-A during the same timeframe] and a director of human resources for Cisco. “They saw that she was excited about taking a larger role — which showed them that they, too, had opportunities.”

Ballard's friends and coworkers — who, as one said, would “walk hot coals” for her — are quick to praise her attentive generosity. In particular, she likes to take her charges to “Rex,” an Atlanta-based makeover guru. “We've all been to Rex,” laughs Prediletto.

A case in point is Sally Hogsette, executive director of the Atlanta Bar Foundation and Ballard's maid-of-honor, sorority sister, and friend for more than 40 years. When her Atlanta home was burglarized — down to the clothes on the hangers — Hogsette was devastated. “I immediately called Peggy.”

At that precise moment, Ballard was driving another friend to an appointment with Rex.

“Peggy said, 'What a wonderful opportunity! We're going shopping,” Hogsette said. “She took me to Rex, and I was able to replace my entire wardrobe … Peggy is that bright light. She is grounded and spiritual and she makes everything OK.”

For Ballard, all women and men are potential mentors — and we're all bright lights. “I have always thought that women are wonders,” she said.

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