John Chambers Discusses His Cisco Exit

In a call with press and analysts on May 4, outgoing Cisco CEO John Chambers provided a whole lot of color about his exit from the top job at Cisco. Cisco announced that Chambers would become the Executive Chairman of Cisco on July 26, replaced as CEO by Chuck Robbins.

“I feel fortunate to have led Cisco for the last 20 years, exciting would be an understatement,” Chambers said. “This is probably one of the most exciting and happy days of my life.”

Chambers emphasized that over the last 20 years, Cisco has played a pivotal role in literally changing the world. Twenty years ago, Cisco was just a router company, but under Chambers’s leadership, the company has evolved into a foundational component of modern IT infrastructure.

“While we’re far from perfect, we have had a huge role in how the Internet has evolved and changed people’s lives,” Chambers said.

Over the years, Cisco has faced its share of setbacks and a seemingly endless stream of competitive threats. Chambers commented that dealing with setbacks is one of the things he’s most proud of. After each setback, he said that Cisco has come back to extend its leadership position.

“You either change or you get left behind, you either change or you die,” Chambers said.

Chambers explained that the process to choose his successor was a long one that spanned the last 18 months. He noted that over the last 10 months in particular, new CEO Chuck Robbins was able to differentiate himself from his peers, and the decision made by the Cisco board of directors to select Robbins was unanimous.

Some in the tech community had suspected that current Cisco President Rob Lloyd was the frontrunner for the CEO spot. Chambers was asked during the press call why Lloyd was passed over for the position. Chambers responded that one of the important parts of the CEO selection process was confidentiality.

“We’re not going to comment on the internal candidates or their names or backgrounds,” Chambers said. “What Chuck [Robbins] did so well is he really showed the characteristics you want in a CEO.”

Those characteristics are vision and strategy and how you translate those items into execution.

For his part, Robbins said that he has been at Cisco for the 17 years and he wakes up energized every morning to push the company forward. Robbins commented that he plans on focusing on operational rigor, to further optimize and improve Cisco.

“John, you built this company into one of the most successful and admired companies in history and i think we’re on the verge of the most exciting transition we have ever had,” Robbin said. “My goal candidly is to make the next decade better than than the last two.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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