Cisco's John Chambers spent his last month as CEO flying around Europe warning that 40% of companies will die

On Monday, Cisco’s 20-year CEO John Chambers officially retires from the corner office to become executive chairman.

He keeps saying that he’s not going to be secretly still running the company (though many people inside Cisco don’t fully believe that, yet).

His role, he says, will be “wing man” to new CEO Chuck Robbins.

It appears Chambers means that quite literally. In an interview with Daniel Thomas at the Financial Times, Chambers said he’s spent the last month of his tenure flying around Europe.

Chambers owns his own plane, and he charges the company when he uses it for business travel like rank-and-file employees charges for mileage when driving their cars driving to meetings.

As the FT’s Daniel Thomas reports:

It is Europe that is now in focus for Mr Chambers. He has spent the past month meeting national leaders on a regional tour to announce investments in the so-called internet of things — the billions of devices with online connectivity that are aimed at improving areas such as healthcare and transport.

Cisco predicts that 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020 and 500 billion by 2030, as “smarter” internet-enabled equipment is introduced.

Europe has actually been one of Cisco’s’ stronger markets, growing for the past six quarters, Chambers said in May. (It is China that’s been giving Cisco a belly-ache.)

But one of Chambers favourite things to do is to fly around meeting with world leaders sharing his vision for the future and Cisco’s roll in it.

Right now, he’s focused on ensuring that as billions of devices join the internet, they do so on an internet that is still using mostly Cisco equipment. But that’s not a given. Many of these devices will be joining the internet thanks to cloud computing and many of the largest cloud computing vendors (Amazon, Google) use few of Cisco’s equipment. They tend to use lower-cost alternatives.

Chambers’ latest tactic is a fire-and-brimstone warning. The internet of things will change the business world, he says, and those who miss it won’t survive.

“Forty per cent of the companies in the UK will not exist in a meaningful way in the next 10 years — same thing true in the US,” he says. He’s been giving this same apocalypse warning since the company’s giant customer conference in June.

So, Chambers is out there, talking about the internet of things, making investments to ensure Cisco’s place in it, and doing his wing man duties from the comfort of his own plane.

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