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.


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.”


G Joslin Vethakumar


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Filed under Cisco, John Chambers

196 Countries in 19 Months!

That’s a lucky 27-year-old, woman power at its best!!

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PRs Still Foreigners, Data Must Be Clear

Permanent Residents (PRs) are still foreigners. It is not right to club citizens and PRs in statistical data.

Singaporeans have to be alert to jugglery that skirts the distinction.

G Joslin Vethakumar 

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Vidit Draws with Carlsen, India’s Best Bet at Isle of Man Tournament

Anand Also Undefeated But Playing it Very Safe

With just two rounds to go at the Isle of Man chess tournament, Vidit Gujarathi (2702) is India’s best bet at the end of Round 7 yesterday.

Playing above his rating, Vidit earned a brilliant draw against Magnus Carlsen, the monarch of today’s chess world, yesterday, to take his score to 5.5 points, sharing the third spot with four others.

Viswanathan Anand (2794) is half a point behind, playing it safe even against much lower-ranked players in a desperate attempt to ward off defeat. This is understandable considering his second-round exit at the recent Tbilisi World Cup which Levon Aronian went on to win defeating Deng Liren of China in the final.

I have been watching the Isle of Man tournament every night live online and it is clear to me that Anand is playing subpar chess, despite remaining undefeated thus for. 

In the sixth round, he got into a comfortable position against SP Sethuraman and missed several winning variations before eventually scoring a full point.

In Round 7, though, he was in a hurry, quickly exchanging most pieces and settling for a draw against a player ranked 230 points below him, Lenderman, Aleksandr (2565). He was perhaps trying to skirt the possibility of running into Carlsen in one of the two remaining rounds.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Singapore Move to Counter Bid Price Wars

Greater Weighting for Quality

About two decades ago when I was working for Microsoft Magazine, a cover story I wrote was on the use of technology in construction. An architect I spoke to for the piece then had a telling comment: “This is an industry where human lives are involved. The focus, therefore, will have to be on ensuring safety and quality, using proven methodologies.”

Not surprisingly, technology adoption in the sector was not as pervasive as it was in other verticals. Now, though, the challenge is not technology, but price wars.

In a significant development yesterday, Singapore announced that weighting for the quality component of a tender would go up from 30% to up to 60% for government projects.

That is a welcome move as price wars are bound to have a detrimental effect on projects – be it in construction or other business areas. 

The private sector, across all verticals, can take a cue from it and focus more on quality and less on price in their own interest. While upfront costs may be more, the return on investment (RoI) for them can more than make up for it.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Bid Strategies, Price Wars

Population Staying Stable is Good News!

Singapore Can Do More to Fight All forms of isms – Racism, Ageism and More

The modest growth in population is good news indeed. It will have been better if there was a decline in population rather than just in growth.

The population stands at 5.61 million, according to media reports quoting statistics from the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD). In its annual Population in Brief report, released on September 27, the growth was just 0.1%.

The report also noted that the ageing population (citizens aged 65 and above) increased from 13.7 per cent to 14.4 per cent.


There were other reports which touched on how manpower shortage could hit businesses. To me, any talk about a labour crunch is just overblown sentiment. It is not brain surgeons or rocket scientists from across the shores they look for. It is largely routine resourcing.

Long Learning Curve

If firms show an unwillingness to hire locals and provide necessary training they have to bear the consequences.  After all, even the foreigners they hire are not productive from day 1. In fact, they go through a long learning curve.

Businesses screaming manpower gap trouble are just looking for escape routes that suit their palatability aligned with their own workforce preferences.

Go Offshore

The onus is on them to make the best out of available talent, showing an inclination towards equipping them with role-specific capabilities.

Or, they can tap skills offshore, given that most of the jobs going to foreigners are desk-based positions. If even in a smart and connected world firms are unable to use virtual teams they are just not being creative enough.

Breeding Evils – Racism, Ageism and Mediocrity

Foreign “Talent” (FT) quietly breed evils such as racism, ageism and fanaticism. I often hear comments against sections of the workforce they are threatened by – the young and old alike. The workplace is not a boxing arena for trading punches and withstanding strenuous physical activity.

When locals go without jobs, losing out to foreign mediocrity, there is a risk of revolt which can seriously affect harmony among the resident population.

There are MNCs who still make Mandarin mandatory for jobs that do not require specific language skills.

The only way to fight all -isms in Singapore is by trimming the population significantly. Women, young local graduates struggling for a break and even 50+ people can then be meaningfully employed by businesses.

Importantly, a less dense Singapore will translate to a better quality of life with little congestion. Economic prosperity alone does not define high-quality living.


G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Overpopulation in Singapore, Singapore Population

So, Amos Yee is Free to Say the “US is Finally Dead”

A Teen Claiming to be a Victim of Political Persecution is Height of Absurdity

The U.S. has a smart-assy way of inviting trouble, aided by its intellectually impoverished culture of liberalism. The latest demonstration of this inanity is in the granting of asylum to Singaporean juvenile delinquent Amos Yee (18), whose avowed aim is “to spread anarchic communism.”

If a teen can claim to be a victim of political persecution in Singapore only those steeped in idiocy will be taken in by the height of absurdity. The country had ignored his YouTube ranting (since he was 13) and was treated with kid gloves even after he celebrated the death of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew with a video titled, “LKY is Finally Dead.”

If he had not been arrested, he may have landed himself in a worse form of trouble for he was seeking to foment communal ferment in the country with venom against Christianity and Islam.

It is just selective atheism – attacking religion is not the same as targeting particular faiths in a peaceful, multiracial country. Calling him an atheist just amounts to mocking at genuine non-believers.

Joining the Anti-Trump Brigade

He is an embarrassment for anyone who loves free speech. Singapore is not a country to be rattled by a 15-year-old delinquent desperate for an escape from National Service in the country while seeking good life in the U.S., without deserving it.

Amos Yee will fit in well in the U.S., joining hands with those protesting against President Trump and exacerbating the anarchic situation already prevailing there.

Why is Snowden Still an American Fugitive?

As I had posed in an earlier post: “If the U.S. is a country that stands by absolute freedom, why is Edward Snowden on the run?”

The asylum for Amos Yee also reminds of how Uncle Sam gave asylum for a few duds from India – maid Sangeeta Richards and her family.

The U.S. embassy in India then went to the extent of conspiring with the maid’s family (husband, Richard, and children) to have them evacuated into American soil. Richard was a driver with the embassy.

Uncle Sam’s Surreptitious Actions in India

Interestingly, soon after his surreptitious arrival in the U.S., with all costs paid for by Washington, Sangeeta and Richard filed for divorce.

Then, there is this instance of American teenager Michael Fay who was caned for vandalism in Singapore. Then American President Bill Clinton had personally called Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong seeking pardon for the vandal. But Singapore politely declined, saying the law cannot be different for a foreigner.

After the jail term and the caning, Michael Fay went back to the U.S. where he was later arrested for assaulting his father.

It is time the U.S. started to see reason in Singapore’s actions.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Amos Yee, General, Uncle Sam