Cisco passes the torch

Robbins blew past the pack to succeed Chambers and become Cisco's fourth CEO


Show More

Three years into his two- to four-year window, John Chambers retired. And 16 months after a succession plan was disclosed, Chuck Robbins was tapped to replace him.

Robbins, Cisco’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, will become the 31-year-old company’s fourth CEO on July 26 as Chambers steps aside after 20 years at the helm. Chambers will become executive chairman.


The selection of Robbins is chronicled here in this blog post from a Cisco director and HR executive. Several other high profile internal and external executives were believed to be candidates, including Cisco President Rob Lloyd and Edzard Overbeek, senior vice president of Cisco Services.

Expect some of these top Cisco leaders to move on.

Chambers would not comment on any individual candidate for the job other than Robbins during a conference call on the transition this week:

Chuck blew away from all of his peers. Chuck showed the characteristics of CEO. He has vision and strategy, and he knows how to execute. He just has the track record. The cultural match is very, very good. He will be in charge, no doubt about it. He knows what he knows and he knows what he doesn’t.

A humbled Robbins said the Cisco board executed a “world class process” over the 16 month vetting period and that Cisco’s current strategy – digitization of companies, cities and countries through the Internet of Everything -- will remain intact, but fine-tuned:

The areas to prioritize are the areas that support our current strategy; but there are areas within we can accelerate, move faster. Our strategy is working. I believe hugely in our culture at Cisco, it’s a differentiator. People make all the difference in the world. I believe in clarity. Over the next 90 days, I like to listen. This market is moving too rapidly for any one to have all the answers.

One of the areas tapped for acceleration is the application layer of the Internet of Everything that exposes the information collected and processed by the network, Robbins said. The IoE application layer should have the ability to dynamically allocate IT resources based on this information and on application need, he says:

I believe our strategy is working, our customers and partners believe our strategy is working. Innovation is at an all-time high. We are on the verge of most exciting transition we’ve ever had. My goal is to make the next decade better than the last two.

As for Chambers, he plans to stay out of the way and let Robbins do his thing. He’ll spend more time with his wife and grandchildren, and join the boards of some intriguing start-ups that promise to bring 1990s-style innovation and acceleration to the broadening infiltration and influence of IP and the Internet on everyday life.

Of his tenure as Cisco CEO, in which the company grew from a $1.2 billion router and switch maker to a $47 billion IT behemoth, Chambers has no regrets:

It was very fortunate and humbling to lead Cisco over the past 20 years. But today is one of most exciting and happy days of my life. There’s an inflection point occurring in the market similar to the 1990s – everything is going digital. I’m most proud of our leadership team and in changing the world. We played a huge role in how the Internet has evolved and changed peoples’ lives.

And now it’s time for Cisco’s own life, leadership and soon-to-be former leaders to change.

More from Cisco Subnet:

Arista decouples switch, software pricing

SDN management battle: TAPs vs. network packet brokers

Cisco programs the cloud

Cisco, Microsoft part of optics consortium directing data center standards

EMC eying Arista, Brocade?

Cisco replaces UCS server head; software leaders also depart

Does Juniper have too many SDNs?

VMware opens up on Cisco

Brocade: "Software is going to eat everything"

Juniper rewires the data center

Follow all Cisco Subnet bloggers on Twitter.Jim Duffy on Twitter

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022