The Cisco team was all smiles as they introduced new CEO Chuck Robbins to journalists on Monday after announcing that longtime CEO John Chambers would step down on July 26.
Chambers was full of praise for the new CEO, a 17-year-veteran who won the board over unanimously during the 16 months that the CEO search took place, Chambers said.
But Chambers also made it clear that he wasn’t exactly vacating the premises. Chambers has been CEO of Cisco for 20 years and had pushed off retirement numerous times. Internally, many people thought that Chambers would never retire. He will become executive chairman.
Chambers said during the call that he once asked his father how he would know when he was ready to retire. His father told him that he would just know.
It’s hard to tell if Chambers just knows. Chambers said he’ll be spending 50%-75% of his time working at Cisco, helping Robbins for the next year or two.
And every chance he got, Chambers kept saying that Robbins would be in charge of executing Chambers’ big dream for the company: To turn Cisco into the biggest “IT company,” another IBM or HP, a company that makes its money on a wide variety of tech products used by businesses.
“You will be running this company. Take us to the No. 1 IT company,” Chambers told Robbins on the call to journalists (just as he said in a YouTube video that introduced Robbins).
That’s a tall order. Currently, network equipment still makes up over 70% of Cisco’s revenues (if you add in business units like wireless networking and gear sold to service providers).
And companies like HP and IBM are also struggling to remake themselves in the brave new world of cloud computing, where companies don’t buy as much tech as they used to, but rent it, hosted elsewhere, paying only for what they use.
Robbins, for his part, didn’t talk about becoming the No. 1 IT company, though he didn’t diss the idea either. “I believe our strategy is working,” he said on the conference call.
Instead he talked repeatedly about getting a jump on the Next Big Thing, the Internet of Things. That’s were everyday objects will get sensors and apps and join the Internet. IoT is going to greatly increase the need for companies to buy new network equipment, write and host apps, and so on. Cisco believes that all told, IoT will become a $US14 trillion market in the next decade.
As for what Chambers will be doing beyond Cisco, he hasn’t thought that far, he said, except to spend more time with his wife (his high-school sweetheart) and his grandkids, and that he’s NOT planning on running for political office.
The joke was that even Robbins expects John to be in his office more than out of it. “John’s wife called me and asked me to keep him very busy,” Robbins said.