John Chambers' 10 most memorable quotes as Cisco CEO

As we reach the end of the John Chambers era at Cisco, here's a look back at some of the most memorable "Chambers-isms" over the years.

After all the pomp and circumstance, July 25th is almost here, officially marking the end of John Chambers' 20-year run as CEO of Cisco. Over the years I've had the good fortune of meeting Chambers several times as well as hearing countless keynotes. Below are my most memorable Chambers quotes, or "Chambers-isms."

If you agree with everything I have said, then I have failed.

Chambers made this statement a number of times prior to keynotes as a way of indicating that his presentation was going to be somewhat controversial. Whether or not you agreed with what he said, the one thing I can say is that most of his keynotes did make you think about things a little differently.

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The Internet will change the way we work, live, learn, and play.

This may seem obvious now, but he made this statement in the 90s when the role of the Internet was still in doubt. This became a tag line for Cisco for years, as it used the building of the Internet as a launch point to become the dominant IT company it is today.

Voice will be free

This was another Chambers statement that seems obvious with the power of hindsight. However, back in the mid 90s when this proclamation was made, voice was the main source of telco and telco supplier revenue. Cisco was also just starting to grow its telecom business, so making this statement when he did took some guts.

See also: 30 years of Cisco: The networking giant's boldest predictions

Much of the industry laughed at Cisco's prediction and didn't take it seriously. In business, sometimes you need to tell your customers what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear. It's just that in this case, most didn't want to listen, and consequently, many telcos and equipment suppliers paid the price. Perhaps some of them should have listened. 

Video is the new voice.

After Cisco rolled out TelePresence and bought Tandberg, the company started talking about how video would become the new voice. Was Chambers right about this? Well, it depends on your perspective.

As Brent Kelly pointed out in a Q&A with Chambers at Cisco Live, messaging has replaced voice in terms of the number of messages sent. However, with respect to bandwidth, video has not only become the new voice, it's surpassed it. No application has caused network operators and enterprises to re-architect their networks more than video, so through that lens this statement was correct.

All forms of communications move to IP.

In some ways, this statement was closely aligned to voice becoming free since it was the shift to IP that drove the price down. Prior to the rise of IP, there were other attempts to converge voice, video, and data on a common network, most notably ATM and ISDN. Why was IP different? IP made voice and video dynamic and enabled it to scale rapidly where other older protocols could not. Almost everything runs on IP today.

There are two equalizers in life: the Internet and education.

I've interacted with Mr. Chambers now for many years, and using the Internet as a way to improve education has been a core belief of his for decades. Cisco has invested heavily in helping government leaders in third-world countries improve broadband capabilities, educate more people, and improve the standard of living in those countries. Additionally, Cisco has used the Internet as a way of hiring educated, smart people who could make a significant contribution at Cisco but may not be able to work in their own countries because of social stigmas.

The Internet of Things will be bigger than the Internet.

Cisco has put many of its eggs into the IoT basket, and rightfully so. As I stated earlier, the Internet changed the way we worked, lived, learned, and played in a way that no one could have imagined. Now picture living in a world where everything is connected, and the possibilities that creates is limitless. The industry is on the precipice of an explosion of IoT-related products and services coming to market, and I expect Cisco to be at the center of it.

There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those who don't know they have been hacked. 

I'm not sure when Chambers first made this statement, but it's proven to be true. Companies large and small are under constant threat of having their IT systems breached. The question for most organizations isn't IF they are going to be breached, but how they can isolate and mitigate the threat. It's this premise that has put in motion Cisco's current security strategy of the network as an enforcer, identifier, and mitigator of security threats.

Market transitions wait for no one.

This is the credo that Cisco has lived by since Chambers took over as CEO. Find a market transition and act on it before anyone else. Those that can actually execute on this become market leaders, and those that do not suffer a slow, painful death. Cisco has absolutely obliterated the networking industry by capitalizing on transitions and is a market leader in routing, switching, voice, wireless, unified communications, unified computing, security, and a number of other markets. In that time, we have said goodbye to names like Bay, Nortel, Lucent, Cabletron, 3Com and other big brands.

Tell me three things Cisco could be doing better.

Of all the "Chambers-isms," this is by far my favorite and the reason that Cisco is in the position they are in. Chambers asks almost everyone he talks to this question. Customers, channel partners, reporters, financial analysts, industry analysts and others. If you're at all part of Cisco's ecosystem, he'll ask what they can be doing better. In addition to asking the question, in follow up meetings, he's quick to remind you of your recommendations and what Cisco did to address any issues that were brought up previously. In my interactions, he comes across as taking every recommendation to improve Cisco seriously, no matter who you are. In my opinion, this is perhaps the biggest reason why Cisco has been and continues to be a market leader in so many industries.

I certainly look forward to getting to know Chuck Robbins better and building a list of Chuck-isms. Obviously, I expect Robbins to be his own person, but I hope he continues to ask what Cisco could be doing better. Cisco's ability to ask, listen, and execute has served it well and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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