As Cisco names CEO successor, John Chambers goes out on a high note

Cisco CEO John Chambers just announced that he will be stepping down soon and bringing in Chuck Robbins as his successor. In doing so, he's truly going out on top.

Cisco CEO John Chambers retiring


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It's always nice when highly public figures can go out on a high note and, as they say, "leave them wanting more." I remember John Elway announcing his retirement after winning his second consecutive Super Bowl. Sure, he could have played more, and there isn't a sports fan who didn't want to see that, but now our memory of Elway is that of a winner and he'll always remain larger than life in the history of the NFL.

In the business world, we don't get to see this very often. It's more common to see a CEO removed from his or her position after the company has fallen, instead of a graceful hand-off during a period of success. This morning, one of the most successful CEOs in this history of American business, John Chambers, announced that this fiscal year would be his last as CEO. As of July 26, Chuck Robbins will become the new man in charge. 

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The announcement itself isn't a surprise, as in 2012 Chambers said he would probably retire in the next two to four years. Also, turning over the reins this year has some nice symmetry to it, as this will be Chambers' 20th as CEO of Cisco, and he is now 65, a natural time to retire from the CEO grind. Even though he is stepping down, Chambers will remain involved in the company and will become Executive Chairman of the board and, I'm sure, be a valuable resource to Robbins as he transitions into that role.

Like any CEO, Chambers' tenure was filled with highs and lows, but there's no way to look at his time as CEO as anything but successful. Below is an infographic, courtesy of Cisco, that shows many of the highlights of Chambers' tenure with the company, including its ascension to No. 1 or No. 2 in 16 markets and the company's growth from $1.2 billion in 1995 to $47.1 billion today.

050415 cisco infographic ceo john chambers Cisco

In fact, many doubted Cisco's ability to succeed at all. I was in IT and I remember reading an Industry Analyst report (I'll leave the firm's name out) that claimed the router was going away and that all routing would become part of the switch. That didn't happen, of course, and the router became Cisco's anchor into almost every company. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There are many stats on the infographic that you can see for yourself, but the one thing that Cisco left off, which will always be what I will remember Chambers for most, is his ability to look around the corner and catch market transitions at exactly the right time. I've written in the past how about this was the "thing" that propelled Cisco from being a small router company to the networking giant it has become. Chambers boldly predicted that the internet literally changed the way we "work, live, learn, and play," and no one took advantage of that more than Cisco did. Chambers was the quarterback that made the offense run.

See also: How Cisco keeps channel partners out in front of market trends

The company is in a great position now to turn over to Robbins. In 2011, the company stock price was about $15 per share; today it sits just under $30 per share. More importantly, the cloud, mobility, and Internet of Things look like they are going to be forces that, once again, change the way we work, live, learn, and play, and Cisco appears well-positioned to take advantage of these trends. The opportunity is clearly there, and now it's Chuck's turn to run the offense.

Because of Chambers' quasi-celebrity status, many of the other Cisco executives have flown somewhat under the public radar, so you might not know much about Robbins. He joined Cisco in 1997 and saw a meteoric rise, with his most recent role being Cisco's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations, leading the global sales machine and partner organization that drives the $47 billion business today.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Chuck a few times now, including most recently at Cisco's Partner Summit. Robbins is an incredibly energetic person who shares the same passion for the role technology plays in transforming organizations as Chambers does, and I'm sure he'll be a success. Like Chambers, Robbins is charismatic and has the ability to talk to IT, business, and world leaders. There's no question he will be under the microscope as Chambers leaves some big shoes to fill, but I don't see any reason why he won't be a success.

So congratulations to Chuck Robbins on being named CEO. It's well-deserved, and I'm looking forward to getting to know you better in the coming years. For John Chambers, it's been quite a tenure, as I've looked at Cisco through the lens of a customer, reseller, and analyst, and it's certainly been a ride to remember.

On stage, Chambers often says "You know where I'm going with this." To that I'll say I don't know where you're going now, but wherever you go, I wish you all the best. The internet changed the way I work, live, learn, and play, and I have the Chambers-led Cisco to thank for much of that.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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