Something on Cisco’s earnings call last night went terribly wrong. In a rational business sense, Cisco made plenty of money, even though they missed analyst estimates: $1.9B in profit and $40 billion in revenue for the first time in the company’s history really isn’t that shabby.
But something else was going on. The conference call was awful. It did not inspire confidence. Cisco executives bungled words, proceeded with a new “four-part” format as if they were trying to choreograph an opera at the Met, and struggled to explain the business climate. Even John Chambers himself, master of the bullish technology catchphrase, seemed to have trouble elucidating exactly what the problem was.
“We think the words unusual uncertainty are … a description of what’s happening.”
Whaaa? Had we been suddenly been dropped into some metaphysical California Yoga retreat? Unusual uncertainty? What is that? That’s not the Chambers I know. That’s downright whimpy.
For those of you not familiar with Chamberspeak, this is a man famous for touching people on the shoulder at Cisco confabs, a guy who normally spins gold out of share price and lifts the spirits. For example, here’s some stuff he said in the past:
- “Well, I tend to be an optimist in life and it’s more fun being an optimist than a pessimist.” (1999)
- “Globally, business and government leaders are beginning to dramatically transform their traditional business models into Internet economy business models. Customers are increasingly seeking Cisco’s expertise to help them through this transformation.”
- “Video is emerging as a key element in the quadruple play. In fact, video may be the most critical element in terms of stickiness for customers … Video is an integral part of our strategy and must be part of our competency.” (2005)
- “The network is moving away from transport and toward enabling interactions.” (2006)
- On the very positive side we are seeing network-enabled collaborative business process changes and productivity increases begin to gain traction on a global basis.” (3Q calendar earnings, 2008) “
- “Broadband is the ticket for entry to participate in the world economy.” (2009)
So what do we get in this call? “Unusual amount of conservatism… unusual uncertainty…” and “mixed signals.”
The funny thing is, on the face of it, some factoids didn’t sound that terrible. Chambers said Cisco would hire 3,000 people over the next three quarters.
But the Chamberspeak this time? Unusually uncertain. Maybe that’s why Cisco’s stock will open up down 10% or so.