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New Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins heads into "hyper-connected" mode

John Gallant | July 27, 2015
Robbins takes over at Cisco for John Chambers this Monday, promoting a hyper-connected architecture in the face of competition from white box makers and SDN proponents.

Cisco CEO Chuck RobbinsCredit: Cisco

When Cisco Systems employees head into work Monday they'll encounter something they haven't seen in two decades: A new boss. Chuck Robbins -- formerly senior vice president of worldwide operations -- takes over as CEO from John Chambers, one of the most visible and quotable figures in business.

In this early-access interview with John Gallant, chief content officer of IDG US Media, Robbins sets out his priorities for Cisco and his new management team, and talks about the opportunities and challenges facing the network giant. Robbins dissects the competitive landscape and explains why so-called 'white box' data center gear and software-defined networks are not the threats to Cisco that some pundits contend. He also describes his vision for the "hyper-connected architecture" that will speed customer digitization efforts and help IT capture the value in the Internet of Things. Finally, Robbins talks about life at Cisco under a leader not named John.

Chuck, what do you bring to this role that's different than what John brought to it?

John has done an amazing job here for 20 years and he's an icon in the industry. He's an icon globally - in the political scene, the corporate world. He's done a phenomenal job. There are two things that I think about. One, I came up through the company so I have a clear understanding of how things work and, sometimes, how things don't work around here. The second big thing is that John has been very present and has had a sense of ownership relative to the company strategy for most of his time as CEO. My view is that the market is too complex, moving too fast. We have to shift to creating a very diverse leadership team that has very different perspectives. Then we have to take advantage of those perspectives to drive our strategy going forward - and that does not mean slow. It means fast collaboration, leverage the value of the diversity that we have and move quickly together. That's one of the things that John and I have talked about and he agrees with me. He's talked about it publicly. The biggest difference I see going forward is how we're going to have to move with speed but leverage a lot of diverse input.

Was that the motivation behind the flatter organizational structure that's been announced already with the changes on the management team?

Yes, I think we are going to have to move with greater speed and no one would deny that smaller teams can move faster. That's why when you're building small teams that have to move fast, it's so important to get the right mix of experience.


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