Cisco once created a 'Tiger Team' to attack a hated rival

On Wednesday, Cisco reported its seventh straight quarter of year-over-year shrinking revenues.

That came weeks after its rival Arista Networks posted another blow-out quarter, with revenues up 50% over the year-ago quarter, sending its stock to all-time highs.

This is exactly the nightmare scenario that Cisco’s former CEO, John Chambers, feared years ago, back in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Rachael King.

Arista was founded in 2004 by legendary Valley engineers Andy Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton, former Cisco stars who became billionaires by making angel investments in Google.

But the company’s existence became a personal rivalry when it hired Jayshree Ullal as CEO in 2008. Ullal grew to fame in the industry as a star engineer inside Cisco and a protege of the company’s larger-than-life CEO at the time, John Chambers. (Chambers retired from the CEO job in 2015 and is now executive chairman.)

Ullal wasn’t poached. She had already left Cisco before joining Arista. Still when she was able to woo business from Microsoft, a huge Cisco customer, Chambers grew alarmed, King reported based on Chambers own court testimony. (Cisco has filed multiple legal actions against Arista over the past few years, involving the usual things rivals fight over: patents and copyrights.)

No slow down

So back in 2011, in order to keep Arista from nabbing any more business from Cisco’s customers, Cisco set up the “Tiger Team,” a group focused on thwarting Arista. Up to 70 salespeople and engineers would participate in “war room” calls to comb over details about Arista, King reports.

Chambers wasn’t wrong in his fears. While Arista is still a fraction of the size of Cisco, and Microsoft still buys a huge volume of network gear from Cisco, Microsoft has become one of Arista’s largest customers.

And despite the Tiger Team, Arista has survived and thrived. JPMorgan’s Rod Hall, who has been bearish on Cisco, has been effusive over Arista. “It is hard to overstate how well this team continues to execute in our opinion,” he wrote in an research note earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Cisco says the company is not focused on its history with Arista but on the future.

“We are very optimistic about our future and the value we are offering customers. At a time when the network has never been more critical to business success, our customers are looking to Cisco to provide a secure intelligent platform for digital business.”

Get the latest Cisco stock price here.

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