Category Archives: Cisco

Goodbye Networking and Box Pushing for Chambers!

Social Media, Voice Authentication and Drones Among his New Focus Areas

Some elements of surprise, awe and professional advancement from my five-year stay at Cisco remain firmly etched in memory. They have now been refreshed with the announcement that Mr John Chambers (68), its Executive Chairman, will vacate the post this December.

This comes amid talk of tensions between him and the man he made CEO, Mr Chuck Robbins, two years ago. Mr Robbins was reporting to the man (Mr Rob Lloyd) who was tipped to succeed Mr Chambers then. Effectively, Mr Lloyd became a subordinate to someone who was his subordinate, thanks to the outgoing Cisco Chairman! Understandably, Mr Lloyd and the other senior leaders who were overlooked quit Cisco.

Indian Software Startup

Mr Chambers will now shift his focus to startups in areas such as social media, voice authentication, defensive drones and security as he says in this Fox video interview. He is also expected to invest in Uniphore Software Systems, an Indian software startup.

He says Mr Robbins will take over the chairmanship as well, asserting that Cisco was getting its market transition (one of his favourite expressions) right. He was emphatic that “this is classic Cisco-style world-class execution, world-class transparency.”

To me, though, Cisco deserved a better leader with stellar credentials. To know the difference, one just needs to look at the kind of leadership companies like Google and Microsoft picked to succeed their founders.

Voyage of Discovery

My Cisco stay (2005 – 2010) was a voyage of discovery, and a rewarding one, with some defining moments in my career. One that allowed me to experience what a visionary spirit and thought leadership were all about. I held Mr Chambers as a celebrity CEO next to Mr Bill Gates.

There are some that will always stay afresh, including:

  1. Prompt leadership responsiveness – the points you raise count, not where you are in the hierarchy
  2. Its democratic traditions which allowed contrarian positions to withstand and survive corporate scrutiny.

My Resignation, Mail to Mr Chambers and Response

My respect for Mr Chambers grew when, after submitting my resignation, I shot him a mail highlighting some reasons that made me decide Cisco was not the place I could continue working.

I was writing a 3000-word email (crazy me!!) to the CEO and Chairman of a US$50-billion company, and I was certain it would go straight into the trash bin!

To my pleasant surprise, in a matter of hours, I received an email response. The same night, the Executive Vice President for HR (who directly reported to Mr Chambers) called me from San Jose to discuss the issues I had raised and promised a thorough investigation. That was an extraordinary follow-up and I doubt any such thing could happen in any of the world’s top companies.

Deviant Corporate Action 

Cisco and Mr Chambers instantly walked a notch up the pedestal in my esteem because of the positive experience. When the job market is vibrant and opportunities abound, staff tolerance of any deviant corporate action, perceived or otherwise, will ebb. My resignation from Cisco, consistently ranked as one of the best companies to work for, also came at one such intersection.

I am not one to take hasty actions, so the decision to quit Cisco was a well though-out one. Whether I can unreservedly say I did not regret it is hardly the point. I quit only after I was clear what my next career stop will be. Decisions taken must only be looked back with nostalgia.

My experience with BT, which is where I moved to from Cisco, was enriching as I gained skills unique to a P&L-oriented service provider environment. That was a shift away from a solution provider.

For a little bit of immodest bragging, as the first corporate bid management resource in APAC, I helped build the functional group in the region.

Blogging and Free Speech

I was a fairly regular contributor to Cisco’s internal staff blogging portal, often with scathing commentaries. Be it on the company’s quarterly revenues or the cautionary projections of Mr Chambers or even its acquisitions, the democratic traditions within Cisco ensured that I could speak my mind without fear.

In contrast, at the company I moved to from Cisco, there was resistance even to using the link to my personal blog as part of my email signature.

I continued to be strident in my criticism even after I quit Cisco. In one such post in 2011, I had argued it was time for Mr Chambers to go.

Similarities and Differences Between Genesys and Cisco

Cisco owes its gleaming growth and market positioning to Mr Chambers, under whose stewardship the company almost became the world’s first trillion-dollar company. That journey to the pinnacle was stopped in its tracks by the dotcom bust. That, though, was way before I joined Cisco.

chambers_john_cisco400

I see lots of similarities between Genesys, my current employer, and Cisco, our biggest competitor now. Both share identical business cultures in terms of the engagement model and work ethos.

The difference is in solution focus – Genesys on the omnichannel customer experience software portfolio while the Cisco lifeline remains its networking gear.

Not Just a Box Pusher, iPhone was a Cisco Trademark

Cisco is an unquestionable IP networking giant, but Mr Chambers did not like the idea of the company being stuck with its image of being a box pusher, however pioneering its technologies were!  He steered the company to new areas of business – home networking, visual networking (as he strongly believed video was the future), the server space and solutions for a connected world amid the growing relevance of the Internet of Things (IoT) that Cisco referred to as the Internet of Everything (IoE).

Not many will remember that even the iPhone was a Cisco trademark, thanks to its acquisition of Linksys. Cisco and Apple, however, reached an out-of-court settlement on the issue.

Come this Christmas, Mr Chambers will be seen moving in a different direction. He has already taken directorship in Sprinklr, a software unicorn focused on enhancing customer service by tapping the social media. He has also invested in a drone software startup, Airware. There will be several more firms he will invest in and serve as director.

Cisco, though, will remain dear to him. In his own words, “Cisco is family for me, and I want to see it successful.”

personal-ramblings

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Cisco in the News – Present and Past

New Investments in India and ranking as one of World’s Most Ethical Companies

But in 2002 it was found to have funded a charity with links to spreading hate in India

Cisco has been in the news recently – for its $100-million investment in India and for being named one of the world’s most ethical companies.

Good developments by all means, particularly because it is a company I worked for during 2005-2010.

At the same time, the Brussels attacks have brought the focus back on funding hate and nations committing suicide through reckless immigration.

There is another dimension to it. In 2002, soon after 9/11, it emerged in the U.S. that Cisco Systems and HP were among the companies identified to have indirectly funded a group in India associated with hate attacks on minorities in the country- Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) / its affiliates.

In fact, the funding had begun even earlier than 2001 – believed to be from the 1990s – starting with the founding of India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a Maryland-based charity organisation.

The funding was to India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a Maryland-based charity organisation believed to be involved in helping NGOs in India for relief work there.

Reports later emerged pointing to IDRF diverting the funds to sponsor the Sangh Parivar which was involved in spreading hate against non-Hindus in India.

The IDRF is said to have been founded by RSS ideologues based in the U.S. – mostly migrants from India.

Cisco later suspended the funding after IDRF’s links to the RSS were exposed.

To me, companies will go to any lengths as long as it suits their business interests. In a slumping economy amid the growing threat of terrorism their agenda, hidden or otherwise, can hardly be taken at face value.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Cisco’s Cloud Confusion!

IoE, Passing Cloud?: For a company making the bulk of its big bucks from selling networking equipment, the Cloud may mean whittling down of its profits.

Hence, it was no big surprise when Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins told the media at the company’s Partner Summit in San Diego yesterday that: “Cloud is not what customers want. The benefits of what they’re gaining from the cloud are what they want.”

Cisco has been betting big on IoE. Is that a passing cloud? A fad? Mercifully, he acknowledges customers want the benefits of the Cloud.

Mr Robbins warned partners to be wary of new players coming in with “some technology that’s got a lot of buzz and excitement about it.”

I can read his caution differently: “Don’t get swayed by new technologies that have caught Cisco on the wrong foot.”

Down But Not Out: This Bloomberg report can offer some insights into Mr Robbins’ rant. “From 2000 to 2010, the networking equipment pioneer averaged 13 per cent annual sales growth. Since then, 4.3 per cent!”

Without such facts at my disposal I still quit Cisco in July 2010 after a five-year stay with the company that I considered visionary. Looks like I timed it very well! Cisco may be down but it is still experiencing growth, that is to its credit!

The cloud that Cisco had to embrace driven by market factors is seen as one of the technology disruptions impacting business in a world that is going digital.

This CIO report is enlightening – touching on cloud trends that will dominate this year.

Bur Mr Robins has left me confused. Perhaps so is he!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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John Chambers, A Celebrity CEO, Paving Way for Chuck Robbins

Successor Choice a Surprise as Rob Lloyd was considered the frontrunner

Come July 26 this year, Cisco will have a new CEO, with the mantle falling on Mr Chuck Robbins, replacing Mr John Chambers who is relinquishing the position a year in advance after being at the helm for more than 20 years.

Mr Chambers, who will continue as Cisco’s Executive Chairman, had intended to step down as CEO only by July 26, 2016.

I consider Mr Chambers a celebrity CEO in the mould of Mr Bill Gates. The choice of his successor comes as a surprise given that Mr Rob Lloyd, Cisco President, was considered the frontrunner the last few years.

I joined Cisco in August 2005 as its first corporate bid manager in APAC, hired by the group headquarters in San Jose to steer its Proposal group in the region.

Visionary leader: I was filled with a sense of pride as Cisco had been hailed as a visionary company headed by a visionary leader. Cisco also had a very tough hiring process as its goal was to get the top 5% of people in their area of expertise.

I had the opportunity to briefly meet him during one of my visits to the U.S. for the Global Sales Meetings, which used to be held with a lot of fanfare before they made it virtual in 2008. He was an easily accessible, gentle leader and a brilliant speaker who could hold his audiences in rapt attention.

When Mr Chambers became Cisco’s CEO in 1995, it was just a $1.2-billion company. Today it is close to hitting $50 billion in annual sales.

Coming with a Sales background, he tried to give Cisco a consumer/entertainment orientation with some acquisitions such as Linksys, a home networking leader, and the Flip pocket HD video company. Mr Chambers was keen to make Cisco a household name and not just a cutting-edge technology company selling boxes – routers and switches.

Linksys owned the iPhone nomenclature/trademark and Cisco challenged Apple when the latter used the name without its consent. But the two reached an out-of-court settlement.

Chambers 20 years of leadershipDuring the dotcom boom, Cisco almost became Wall Street’s first trillion-dollar company. Then came the bust and its market value took a hit. Some failed acquisitions (Navini Networks, Flip, etc) and periodical global recessions kept the company’s stock price under pressure.

Cisco’s Democratic Traditions: In a scathing commentary here in 2011, I had even written that it was time to go for Mr Chambers — something I was not shy of airing even when I was with the company. The democratic traditions within Cisco ensured that I could speak my mind through the company’s internal staff blogging platform.

Cisco also faced intense competition from the likes of Huawei and Juniper, almost losing its technological edge.

But it consistently had a sound cash balance, $50 billion in reserves, that it continued to tap for innovations/R&D and acquisitions while ensuring profitability.

He saw a bright future for video and a digital world, initiating measures to see Cisco was ready to ride market transitions and capitalise on Connected Life trends tied to its core networking business. Some offerings that launched Cisco into the video market are TelePresence, Videoscape and the Digital Media System.

UCS, IoE: During my stay with the company, Mr Chambers also made Cisco take the plunge into the server space with UCS, a move that made some of its closest partners (such as HP) business foes.

It is now placing its bets on the Internet of Everything which has the potential to keep Cisco’s position at the top intact. Cisco has been doing very well the last several quarters.

My Resignation and Mail to Mr Chambers: My respect for Mr Chambers grew when, after submitting my resignation, I shot him a mail highlighting some reasons that made me decide Cisco was not the place I could continue working.

It elicited a quick response and the Executive Vice President for HR (who directly reported to Mr Chambers) called me from San Jose to discuss the issues I had raised and promised a thorough investigation. This was an extraordinary follow-up and I doubt any such thing could happen in any of the world’s top companies.

But I had already made up my mind to leave, accepting an offer from BT. So I did not reconsider my decision.

However, that was a positive experience which instantly enhanced the reputation of Cisco in my mind.

As Cisco will continue to have the services of Mr Chambers as Chairman, his successor and the company can benefit from his thought leadership without impeding the new CEO’s own strategies and plans.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Is IoT/IoE Real or a Fad that will Fade Away?

Cisco Thinks it Will Soon be a US$19-Trillion Industry

Cisco Systems has placed its biggest bet on the Internet of Everything (IoE) which it estimates will yield US$19 trillion in profits and cost savings over the next 20 years.

chambers_CIS-103418“Go Digital or Die”: So it comes as no surprise that Cisco CEO John Chambers went to the extent of saying at a partner summit this week “that almost half of today’s enterprises won’t exist in a few years unless they embrace the digital revolution.

“Go digital or die” was his message to enterprises.

US$9 trillion by 2020: In a report entitled, The Internet of Everything is the New Economy, available at its corporate site, Cisco refers to an IDC prediction that the shift would generate nearly $9 trillion in annual sales by 2020.

Whether it is a disruptive phenomenon or merely a fad that will fade away over time remains to be seen. But then the IoE market is believed to have been worth $1.3 trillion at the end of 2013, so it may not be a mere marketing gimmick.

That figure puts the IoT/IoE market bigger than the consumer electronics industry whose total revenue for the same period was about $1.1 trillion, as the Cisco report points out.

Old Wine in New Bottle: What, however, is to be given some thought is that the IoT (or the IoE, as Cisco likes to call it) is the fact that it is an evolution of an idea that could be traced to M2M (Machine to Machine) communications.

Emerging technologies can often get trapped in a terminological mesh that I talked about through a post in my blog in February this year.

Software Forays: Cisco is also making bold forays into software, with nine out of its last 10 acquisitions being software or cloud-based companies.

Speaking at the Partner summit, Mr Chambers said: “You don’t see us as a software company? Don’t bet against us (in software). In five years we will take that market together,” he told them.

Whether that happens or not, it will be interesting to watch how the IoE market evolves and how it makes what looks like Utopian thinking today real!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Time to go, Mr Chambers

I am no Nostradamus, but my unbiased predictions do crystallise occasionally. So it is with what I have been saying on Cisco — not just after I quit the company in July last year but even when I was with the company and within its own blogging portal for staff.

On November 12 last year (https://joslinv.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/will-cisco-become-a-penny-stock-soon/), I wrote within these columns that very soon the stock price of rival Juniper will be more than double that of Cisco.

That turned true today after Cisco turned in weaker than expected results yesterday and, as usual, John Chambers opened his mouth. At the time of writing, Cisco is going for $19.23 (down 13% for the day), while Juniper is at $41.05. This is much more than double the price of Cisco.

Old-Generation Company: What was once a visionary company is now an old-generation company with no clue about who they are acquiring and why and, importantly, why they are unable to innovate and compete with even Chinese vendors such as Huawei.

I have respect for John Chambers for he led the company to glory. Importantly, when I sent him a mail on why I quit Cisco, a day before my last day, it elicited an immediate reply, instructing a direct report to probe the issues I had raised. It was a little too late for me as I had already accepted an offer at BT. Mr Chambers, however, instantly walked a notch up the pedestal in my esteem.

But that is not going to stop me from saying that it is time for him to step down without delay rather than preside over Cisco’s demise. His credibility is clearly at stake for Cisco is the worst performing company on Wall Street during the last one year.

I am no longer with Cisco, but I still own Cisco stock. Cisco is a company that buys back stock. So, its deliberate ploy is to ensure its stock price does not go up. These are not things a company or individuals with business integrity will do. No stock price appreciation, no dividends. So, why will investors want to invest in Cisco?

Not just Juniper, another small competitor, Riverbed, also has a stock price that is more than double that of Cisco.  A few years ago, a senior Cisco colleague left the company to join Riverbed when the latter’s stock price was much less than that of Cisco. Another young colleague joined Juniper when its share price was about $25 less than what it is now.

Talent Flight: Cisco has sunk deep — losing key talent, getting stuck with dispensable people, falling short in innovation, losing market share to all and sundry in the networking business and adopting questionable tactics to buy back stock.

What more shame is Chambers waiting for to throw in the towel? I cannot even say, “go in dignity, Mr Chambers”, because there is  none left already.

— G Joslin Vethakumar

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