John Chambers is stepping down as CEO of Cisco. He’ll shift to the executive chairman role starting July 26 to make room for Chuck Robbins, who will serve as the next CEO and take a seat on the company’s board of directors. Chambers will remain chairman of the board.
Chambers (above, right) has served as CEO of Cisco since January 1995 after joining the company in 1991 as head of sales. He has grown the company from $1.2 billion in annual revenue to its current run rate of $48 billion. Earnings per share during his leadership has grown over 3,000 percent.
Robbins (above, left) certainly has the credentials to take the reigns. He joined Cisco in 1997 and rapidly rose through the company’s ranks, most recently serving as senior vice president of worldwide operations. Robbins lead Cisco’s global sales and partner team, driving $47 billion in business for the company.
“We've selected a very strong leader at a time when Cisco is in a very strong position,” said Chambers. “Today’s pace of change is exponential. Every company, city and country is becoming digital, navigating disruptive markets, and Cisco’s role in the digital transformation has never been more important.”
Chambers Celebrates Robbins
As Chambers sees it, Cisco’s next CEO needs to thrive in a “highly dynamic environment,” as well as be able to forward growth opportunities and disrupt what needs to change. That’s always been Chambers’ style and he sees those characteristics in Robbins, suggesting he’s “unique” in his ability to execute vision and strategy by bringing teams and ecosystems together.
“Chuck knows every Cisco segment, technology area, and geography, and will move the company forward with the speed required to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us,” Chambers said. “He is a champion of the Cisco culture and has an incredible ability to inspire, energize, and connect with employees, partners, customers and global leaders.”
Chambers isn’t just blowing smoke. Robbins helped lead and execute many of the company’s investments and strategy shifts, including building the industry’s most powerful partner program. That program now drives over $40 billion in revenue for Cisco every year. Robbins was also a key architect of the company’s strategy for the commercial business segment, which grew 8 percent year-over-year last quarter, and now represents 25 percent of Cisco’s total business. His list of accomplishments goes on and on.
“The opportunity that lies ahead for Cisco is enormous, and the ability to lead this next chapter is deeply humbling and incredibly exhilarating. I am focused on accelerating the innovation and execution that our customers need from us. Their success will continue to drive us,” Robbins said. “At a time when our industry is on the cusp of more disruption than we’ve ever encountered, I couldn’t be more confident in our ability to win, or more honored to lead this great company.”
No Problem Too Big To Solve
We asked Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research and long-time Cisco watcher, for his reaction to the news that Chambers is handing the baton to Robbins. He told us the timing makes sense, given this year marks Chambers’ 20th anniversary as CEO of the company. Chambers is also turning 65 this year, which makes it a logical time to retire.
“More importantly the company is in a good position now. Five years ago, the stock was at a low,” Kerravala said. “Many current IT trends -- cloud, mobile, Internet of Things -- are network-centric. That puts Cisco in a position to become the number one IT vendor that Chambers outlined in his vision for the company."
Indeed, Chambers is turning the company over to Robbins at a time when it is about to execute on this plan. Kerravala said that requires a CEO that has as much energy and as much passion as Chambers had.
“I think Chuck is that guy. He’s very high-energy. People say he’s a no-problem-is-too-big-to-solve kind of person,” Kerravala said. “He’s going to find a way to make it work. That’s the kind of attitude that will serve the company well in the transition From Chambers to Chuck. I don’t expect the company to miss a beat at all.”