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Cisco shuffles its top spots: Chuck Robbins becomes CEO, Chambers is Executive Chairman

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Chuck Robbins, CEO designate, Cisco . Source: Cisco

Cisco Systems has named its next CEO to replace veteran chief executive John Chambers. He’s Chuck Robbins, the company’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, and it’s envisaged that he will take over as CEO in late July.

Chambers is to remain at the top, and will become executive chairman.

The anointing of Robbins has been a slight surprise -  two other top Cisco execs were mentioned as possible successors a couple of years back when Cisco under Chambers was experiencing a slight wobble: questions were then raised about the CEO’s stewardship and there was talk of succession planning with today’s announcement the outcome.

That Robbins has only recently been brought right into the frame for the top spot is suggested by the fact that even a boring ‘head and shoulders’ picture of the heir apparent was difficult to track down on the Cisco site. While all the other top execs had multiple portraits, especially Chambers, Robbins is currently represented by a lone passport-style snap on page two of the Cisco executive gallery.

Chambers of course, has now been at the Cisco helm for 20 years and during that time he has grown what used to be a ‘multiprotocol’ router company back in the last century, into a network equipment behemoth. But recently there has been signs of big company fatigue as the market has changed - impacted by ‘cloud’ and now a challenging switch to SDN/NFV - and Cisco has been finding it hard to adapt.

The result has been a consistent overall sales decline and, last year in response, a major trimming of the workforce with an attendant reorganisation.

Significantly, Robbins seems to be getting the credit for getting Cisco back into fighting shape over the past three years. He only joined Cisco in 1997 but rose swiftly and was eventually made senior vice president of worldwide operations, “leading the company’s global sales and partner team that drives $47B in business,” explains Cisco’s blurb. And he’s been instrumental in the company’s recent strategy shifts and building its partner program which it says is now worth more than $40 billion.  

According to John Chambers, “Chuck is unique in his ability to translate vision and strategy into world-class execution, bringing together teams and ecosystems to drive results. Chuck knows every Cisco segment, technology area, and geography, and will move the company forward with the speed required to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us. He is a champion of the Cisco culture and has an incredible ability to inspire, energize, and connect with employees, partners, customers and global leaders. Chuck’s vision, strategy and execution track record is exactly what Cisco needs as we enter our next chapter, which I am confident will be even more impactful and exciting than our last.”

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