Ciscos Chambers Steps Down, Replacement Named

Lorna GareyCisco announced on Monday that CEO John Chambers will step down as CEO in July; taking over will be Chuck Robbins, senior VP of field operations.

Robbins ran Cisco’s America operations channels from 1999 to 2007 and was most recently Cisco’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, leading the company’s global sales and partner team, so he’s no stranger to the partner ecosystem. Chambers will assume the role of executive chairman and will continue to serve as chairman of Cisco’s board.

Cisco's John Chambers“I joined Cisco 17 years ago because I wanted to be a part of a company where I believed the possibilities were limitless,” said Robbins in a statement. “Today, I am even more convinced that Cisco is that company.”

Robbins joined Chambers for a Q&A session at Cisco’s recent partner summit, and it was clear that the two are on the same page in terms of where Cisco is heading: toward a digitized, software-based, Internet of Things future, with a strong and diverse partner program. Robbins was a proponent of Cisco’s Sourcefire and Meraki acquisitions, which have forwarded the company’s cloud and software focus.

Asked about adding clarity to the partner program, which over the past few years has, like Cisco’s product portfolio, gotten more diverse – some might say confusing – for customers and providers alike, Robbins affirmed Chambers’ strategy of pushing partners to develop their own strategic partnerships to connect pieces of the architecture.

Cisco's Chuck Robbins“Over time, this is going to create incredible value for our customers, because when you have a horizontal, open architecture, you tend to get more competitiveness around tech innovation, as opposed to a fully integrated stack that you’ve seen from some of the legacy players in IT,” said Robbins. “This is why we’ve fundamentally built out our programs the way we have. We have designations around who’s building clouds, and who’s developing applications.”

He admitted it’s going to take time to instill clarity, but don’t expect a reversal from the current strategy of pushing partners to build their own networks of expertise.

“Over past few years we’ve seen a transition, from where a partner felt they were mapped to an account,” he said. “Now most partners realize …

… they can’t be all things, and they are building their own ecosystems. The selling of the solution is not necessarily the issue; it’s helping our partners build practices so they can build long-term effective businesses around the software,” said Robbins.

Chambers is leaving from a position of strength. Cisco had $1.2 billion in annual revenue when he took the helm 20 years ago. Its current run rate is $48 billion, mostly via partner sales, and the portfolio is highly diversified. In a blog, Cisco board members Roderick McGeary and Francine Katsoudas said the selection of Robbins to replace Chambers was unanimous, and that the selection process has been going on for 16 months.

“He’s been a major force behind Cisco’s long-term success,” said Channel Partners content director Art Wittmann. “In an era when virtually every other hardware company has gone through major business issues – and changed CEOs because of them – Cisco has remained a solid player. He’ll be a tough act to follow.”

Cisco said Chambers will “devote his time to supporting Robbins and engaging closely with customers and governments around the world, with a focus on leading Cisco’s role in country digitization.”

Chambers has served as CEO of Cisco since January 1995, having joined the company in 1991 as the head of sales.

Follow executive editor @LornaGarey on Twitter.

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