John Chambers will stick around at Cisco as executive chairman come July 26, but he says new CEO Chuck Robbins will definitely be the one who calls the shots.
“He’ll be in charge, no doubt about it,” Chambers said during a brief phone conference with the media Monday morning, a few hours after Cisco announced Robbins as its next CEO. “I’m executive chairman, but Chuck will be the CEO. He’ll make the calls.”
Chambers — who spent much of the call trading backslapping remarks with Robbins, another longtime Cisco veteran — declined to name any of Cisco’s other CEO candidates. It’s been assumed for a few years that Rob Lloyd (president of development and sales) or Gary Moore (Cisco’s first-ever chief operating officer, appointed in 2011) would succeed Chambers.
As Cisco explained in a blog entry, the choice of successor was a 16-month process. Top internal candidates underwent “multi-hour” interviews with each of Cisco’s nine independent directors. They also had to articulate a vision for the company, first in writing and later in presentation form.
Apparently, Robbins spotted places for Cisco to improve, and the board agreed.
“I believe our strategy is working, and our customers believe our strategy is working — but what I do believe is, there are areas within our strategy that we can accelerate,” he said. “When Cisco gets into execution mode, we tend to be unbeatable.”
Robbins seems to have the tools to initiate “execution mode.” Cisco’s press release on Monday praised his operational expertise and his ability to keep Cisco’s sales force unified while selling 18 major product lines. Robbins has been a prioritizer and a team builder, “where I’ve tended to be more command-and-control and ‘Make it so,'” Chambers said.
As for Chambers himself, he called today “probably one of the most exciting and happy days of my life.” Echoing sentiments he’s expressed for the last few years, he said Monday that he had set three goals for the timing of his retirement. He wanted Cisco to be on an upward slope, taking market share; he wanted a strong successor (although that’s pretty much true of any CEO who’s voluntarily leaving); and, as a stretch goal, he hoped the industry would be in the midst of a major inflection point.
He got that third one, but he didn’t say the change was around SDN or white box switching. Rather, Chambers namechecked “the digitization of countries and cities” — his chosen area of focus as executive chairman.
Chambers indicated he might stay politically active — he was co-chair on Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid — but he won’t run for office.
“What I really will probably do is more of the giving-back, corporate-social-responsibility focus. I love to teach young people; I’ll probably get on the boards of some startups and help to grow those — but Chuck’s got me probably 50 to 75 percent of the time,” Chambers said.
(Photo: A still from Cisco’s “leadership discussion” video with Robbins (left) and Chambers, posted Monday morning.)