Volpi bolts Cisco

* Mike Volpi leaves Cisco

Mike Volpi, the head of Cisco's Routing and Service Provider Technology Group, has resigned from the company.

Cisco says Volpi, senior vice president and general manager of the group, is leaving to pursue other opportunities. Volpi says he will take some time off to mull his next move (see Volpi Q&A: CEO succession planning did not play role in departure).

Volpi was responsible for Cisco’s overall strategy for the service-provider market and for all of Cisco’s market-leading routing and access products. These include core, midrange, and access routers ranging from the CRS-1 and the 12000 series, to the 800 series, mobile wireless, cable and video solutions, as well as Cisco’s optical networking and service-provider voice systems.

His responsibilities will be split between Pankaj Patel and Tony Bates, both senior vice presidents and general managers of the renamed Service Provider Technology Group. Like Volpi, they will report to Charles Giancarlo, Cisco’s chief development officer.

Volpi’s departure leaves Giancarlo as the clear potential successor to CEO John Chambers, though observers do not expect Chambers to leave anytime soon. Indeed, Volpi’s departure coincides with a restructuring of the product development groups for service providers and network operating-system software that places more responsibility for these activities under Giancarlo.

"Mike has been a close colleague and a good friend during the 13 years we have both been at Cisco, and he has made many significant contributions to the company during that time," Giancarlo said in a statement. "Cisco is very proud to have had Mike as one of its leaders, and he will always be considered part of Cisco's extended family."

Early in his Cisco career, Volpi orchestrated many of the acquisitions that helped Cisco grow from a $2 billion company to the $30 billion behemoth it is today. Cisco acquired more than 70 companies during Volpi’s tenure, and he is credited with developing Cisco’s acquisition and integration processes, which Cisco says have been a significant driver of the company’s growth into new markets.

“Mike will have no trouble doing whatever he wants to do in life because he is one of the most respected guys in our entire business,” says Frank Dzubeck, president of consultancy Communications Network Architects and a longtime Cisco watcher. “He did so much for Cisco when he was running M&A. He grew the company from almost nothing into something humongous. He’s great at what he does. He’d become one of the greatest venture capitalists known to man.”

Volpi also was responsible for developing switching products for data centers and distribution applications during his Cisco career. Several key products were under Volpi's management, including the Catalyst 6500 and 4000 series switches, VPN and security services, and content networking.

Before joining Cisco, Volpi was at HP's optoelectronics division, serving as a product development engineer and product marketing manager.

Bates and Patel are 10-year veterans of Cisco's service-provider business. Under Volpi, Bates led the development of the CRS-1, which Cisco says was the most ambitious engineering effort in the company's history.

Development of the CRS-1 cost Cisco $500 million over four years. Five hundred of the routers have been deployed since its introduction in May 2004.

Patel most recently directed company operations that develop technologies for service providers and large corporate networks, particularly for high-speed broadband connections. In other roles, he helped guide development of voice and telephone capabilities for IP infrastructure.

The organizational changes also will realign various software operations in the company, creating a "center of software expertise" to help Cisco better integrate its various network operating systems into a modular, or "componentized," architecture, the company said. Leading this effort will be Cisco executives Lele Nardin, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Mid-Range Routing business unit, and Bob Marinconz, vice president of engineering for Cable and Video Initiatives.

Volpi leaves as Cisco continues to grow and achieve success in its service-provider operations. Cisco attributes much of its record second-quarter results to service-provider sales, especially in the United States.

"As Cisco continues to grow and succeed, change is the only constant," Giancarlo said in a statement. "Knowing this, Cisco continuously builds a strong and deep bench of leadership that allows the company to smoothly transition through inevitable executive changes. Our seasoned management team is well prepared to carry on our industry-leading efforts and take advantage of our expanding business opportunities."

Dzubeck agrees with Giancarlo’s observation on management depth.

“It doesn’t matter even if John Chambers departs,” he says. “Cisco is beyond ‘people.’ They have such depth in their first and second ranks that…Mike Volpi leaving is not going to create any power vacuum.”

However, some sources say Volpi’s departure is only the beginning of a more dramatic upheaval in Cisco senior management. These sources say that Wall Street is pressing Cisco to provide a clear line of succession for Chambers and that Cisco will comply by naming a president in the coming months.

Cisco said it does not comment on "rumor or speculation."

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