John Chambers may be in the twilight of his tenure as CEO of networking giant Cisco Systems Inc., but don’t expect an imminent ride into the sunset.
Chambers revealed, “I’m here for the foreseeable future,” in response to a question posed by Network World Canada during an exclusive interview by a select group of industry journalists from around the world. Chambers was asked about his future with Cisco and the possibility that retirement may be near.
“I love what I do,” he said, discounting the idea. Chambers went further, suggesting his work at Cisco is not yet complete. Likewise, he dispelled speculation that might exist about his possible entry into American politics at some point — perhaps a logical career path.
The longtime Cisco head has been involvement in a variety of technological and philanthropic global projects and initiatives. “I’m not going to be involved in politics,” he said. “Being CEO is hard enough. In terms of my future, I’m here for the foreseeable future,” he said. Chambers added that he’s made a commitment to his company’s board of directors to “see through” the changes currently underway at the company.
When the time comes for a new CEO to take charge, Chambers vowed that the process would be a smooth one. He agreed there are a number of high-profile senior Cisco executives who can be considered for the job.
“Do I have three to five internal candidates who could be CEO? Oh yeah!” he said.
Chambers explained that his company is highly sensitive to senior executive change and looks to convey stability and purpose when it happens. “You’ve never, ever seen a story written about one of our executives leaving in a negative way,” he said. “We’ve had four or five CFOs, seven leaders of sales, and multiple leaders of engineering. We do these transitions in a world-class way and I expect it to be world class at my end, too.”
Chambers was grilled on a variety of topics during the 30-minute interview. These included his thoughts on small/medium businesses (SMBs) and their use of IT. Chambers said he believes SMBs make decisions on IT purchases much more quickly and than do large enterprises, who are apt to evaluate things much more slowly and move more methodically, looking to establish a business case because the cost of IT to them is much more.
“SMBs are usually a faster adopter of technology, but only if it’s easy to use and if they understand the business application quickly,” he said. Chambers also revealed that experience has taught him not to fall in love with any particular technology.
“The best technology doesn’t always win,” he said. “You go back 14 years ago and everyone thought it would be ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) to the desktop and not fast Ethernet.” Cisco bet on both, he said, adding that in truth most Cisco customers at the time were telling them to move towards high-speed Ethernet, despite the fact that many so-called industry experts were saying ATM was the future.
Chambers said he continues to be surprised by the speed of market transitions. They often begin slow but then rapidly accelerate, he said, adding that the key to success is to catch the wave at the right time.
“I’ve always believed you should try to catch these [when looking to] enter markets,” he said. “If you try to enter an established market, it’s really ugly. It’s very difficult to do.”
Chambers’ parting thought focused on the past and future of Cisco, and on the legacy he hopes to leave. He recognized that the rapid growth and booming business of the 1990s was a profitable time for many within the company. Chambers admitted, “You’re probably not going to see us generate another 10,000 millionaires.” Still, he said he hopes to eventually leave behind a business that remains vibrant and viable.
“What I want to do is build a company, not just to last, but to lead,” he said. “No one’s ever done that before in technology.”