WHEN John Chambers ran Cisco, the world’s biggest maker of networking gear, his hyperactivity nearly matched that of the high-speed switches and routers that made the firm’s fortune. He pushed Cisco into dozens of new businesses, from set-top boxes to virtual health care. He travelled the world preaching the virtues of connectivity. In interviews it was hard to get a word in edgeways. Conversations invariably ended on a restless question: “What should we do differently?”
Chuck Robbins, who succeeded Mr Chambers in July 2015, has two decades of experience selling Cisco gear and seems more comfortable talking about its core business than about diversifications. He avoids the limelight and comes across as almost shy. But he, too, is aware of the need to keep moving. “Networking is getting complex. We need intuitive networks that are secure and can learn and adapt.”
Different times require different bosses. Mr Chambers led Cisco to the top during the dotcom boom; in the early 2000s it became the world’s most valuable firm (see chart). Mr Robbins’s task is to keep it relevant as more and more computing moves into the cloud, which entails the provision of all kinds of services over the internet. On June 20th the firm announced a collection of new products which show how it is adapting: Cisco will focus on software and services, particularly the sort that automate the management of data networks.
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