Cisco's new CEO just said something that could make employees wary

Cisco CEO Chuck RobbinsYouTube/CiscoCisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco today announced it has selected a new CEO from the list of internal candidates it had been eyeing for a while, the person running the company’s massive sales unit, Chuck Robbins. He’ll take over July 26.

As we previously reported, Robbins is somewhat of a surprise. Another internal candidate, Rob Lloyd, had been the heir apparent for years.

But in a conference call with journalists on Monday, Cisco John Chambers said that hiring Robbins as the next CEO was “a unanimous decision” by the board.

The process to pick a new CEO has been going on for the past 16 months, he said, and Robbins was told about the promotion on Friday.

We understand that a lot of people inside of Cisco don’t really know Robbins, as he comes from the sales and marketing side of the company, not the engineering realm (though he has a background in mathematics and computer science). Cisco’s roots are in its engineering team — it makes very complex pieces of IT equipment — and engineers make up 35% of its workforce (about 25,000 people out of about 71,000).

So, as part of naming Robbins to be the next CEO, the company trotted out an introduction video of him, chatting with former CEO-turned-executive chairman John Chambers, in addition to a press conference.

In that interview, he said one thing that might make employees nervous.

When asked about his plans for the next 90 days, he said he had some “very clear thoughts about what I think we should do.” He didn’t share them, instead saying that first up, he was going to make the meet-and-greet rounds, talking and listening to people and testing his thoughts.

But then he said: “Being the mathematician, with a focus on numbers, we’re going to make sure we drive a level of operational rigour that maybe is even a little tougher than what you did, John.” And on the conference call he talked about “doubling down” on “operational rigour.”

That sounds like he’s going to focus on keeping costs in line. That’s normally a great thing, except Cisco has been restructuring, including laying off some workers, for the past four years.

Sources tell us internally that many of the teams feel very squeezed when it comes to costs already.

Chambers also mentioned a couple times that Cisco has 18 different product categories, which could be an indication that Robbins might look to trim or consolidate. Cisco reports earnings on May 13.

We reached out to Cisco for comment and will update if we hear back.

Here’s the video. Skip to 3:44 to hear Robbins talk about this.

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