Cisco’s Former CEO: Delivering on the Vision

Cisco’s John Chambers recently handed the reigns of CEO to Chuck Robbins, but not before I spoke with him about the company’s direction and its ambition of making Cisco the No.1 IT company. He discussed how they are delivering on that vision by forging ahead with its key market initiatives. Chambers will remain the company’s chairman and become executive chairman as well.


Photo Credit: Stephen Lawson/IDG News Service

Confidence behind Strategy

Two years ago, Chambers set the goal to become, as he put it, the most important IT company defined by its importance to customers. Past successes have helped them continue to build confidence. While many thought that was an unlikely outcome, Chambers is confident that their “strategy around architectures and how you tie this together to get business outcomes is working.” Chambers adds that he sees “almost every move in the market [as] either a move to align with where Cisco is going or to align to compete against us or to utilize that technology.”

Keeping the fast pace in terms of strategic direction and transformation can bring with it leadership changes. Cisco has seen a 30% leadership change within the company over two years. But with each strategic shift, executives have had to be able to adapt and commit, and Chambers admits that he realized “as you make transformations at the speed that we’re doing now, you have to probably change between 20% and 40% of your leaders.”

Cisco’s growth puts it in a position where strategic decisions must be made on investment of time and resources for certain market initiatives. As Chambers has relayed in the past, partnerships are key in filling opportunities, but must advance strategic goals. The decision of whether you are “better off fulfilling it through a partnership role vs. doing more of it yourself” is one that Cisco places importance, Chambers said. Currently, they have focused strategic relationships with NetApp, EMC, and IBM for storage-centric capabilities.

Agility of IT

Chambers predicts that the Internet of Everything will take another five years to become baked into everything companies do. Cisco started talking about it eight years ago, but in being ahead of the curve it can take time for others to catch up. He also acknowledges that people get that it’s about people, process, data and things coming together with architectures, but he says that what a lot of people don’t get is that “it’s way beyond just connectivity of things.” Chambers said, “it is how do you get the right information at the right time and the right person and the right machine to make the right decision.”

With all of that going on, to some extent there might be despair for IT with so much change, whether it’s in their thinking or dealing with the business; however, Chambers sees it differently. “IT is back in vogue” and by that, Chambers says, “the CEO knows they have to become a digital company and a technology company. If you do that, you’re going to have to have the capability to deliver on that. The question is do you get that in-house or externally?” In his view, “it’s still IT. But the key is whether IT can be fast.”

Read the complete interview with John Chambers here.


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