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思科CEO钱伯斯的退休疑云(1)

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  On Thursday evening, Oracle announced to muchsurprise that founder and CEO Larry Ellison will stepdown from his long-held post. He’ll becomeexecutive chairman and CTO, ceding the top spot toSafraCatz and Mark Hurd after 37 years. Ellison, 70,is by far the longest-serving chief in tech, but he’shardly the only one whose time at the top can bemeasured by the decade.

  Cisco CEO John Chambers took the helm of the SanJose, Calif.-based networking company in January1995 and presided over one of the great runs in the industry, pushing the company onto theFortune 500 list (#332, in 1997) and past a market capitalization of $100 billion (1998) tobecome, for a brief moment in 2000, the most valuable company in the world (at about $550billion). Then the market’s bottom fell out in the dot-com bust.

  In 2012, Chambers said that he expected to retire in two to four years, naming developmentand sales president Robert Lloyd, field operations SVP Chuck Robbins, and services SVPEdzardOverbeek as possible successors. For this reason, an unusual amount of anxiety andbreathless anticipation accompanied Cisco’s most recent earnings report. The date, August14, was just nine days before Chambers’ 65th birthday. Could investors expect successionnews with the financial results?

  It came and passed with little leadership news, of course—another debunked retirement rumorin a long line of them that stretches back well over a decade. Chambers’ retirement has been“imminent” for years, yet the test of time has shown each and every rumor to be greatlyexaggerated. This one was no exception, despite news of thousands of layoffs.

  “John has consistently said that the next time he talks about succession is when he announcessuccession,” a company spokesman tells Fortune. “This has not changed.”

  Two things have changed, however. First, Chambers is now 65, the symbolic age that at manycompanies would mandate retirement. Second, the research firm Gordon Haskett issued areport stating that the firm still expects Chambers to announce his retirement soon, callingCisco “a company operating without a named successor.”

  The average tenure of a CEO is roughly eight years. Chambers has been in the role for almost20. What has allowed him to buck that trend—and how much longer can he last?

  ‘Networking is a brutal business’

  “John Chambers has had a remarkable ride by any measure,” says Charles King, principalanalyst with Pund-IT.

  That ride began back in 1995, when Chambers, then 46, took Cisco’s top job. At the time, therise of the Internet had put a lusty wind in Cisco’s sails, and the company’s routers andswitches soon came to be viewed as key vertebrae in the backbone of an increasingly connectedworld. Since March 2000, when Cisco briefly edged out Microsoft as the world’s most valuablecompany, there have been plenty of rough patches: several rounds of layoffs, failedacquisitions (remember the Flip camcorder?), and lackluster stock performance.

  Cisco under Chambers has also been under considerable pressure in recent years fromemerging technology trends that challenge its core businesses. One example? Software-defined networking, an approach that is considered to be cheaper and more flexible than thetraditional networking equipment upon which Cisco built its name.

  Cisco does have an answer for that, which it calls Insieme. (“I see SDN as something we’llembrace and get the benefits of,” Chambers said in the company’s most recent earnings call.)Still, there has been “some public grumbling about the company being late to that game andwith less innovative products than some others,” King points out, even as Cisco remains theleader in its core networking markets and performs well in newer areas like x86 servers.

 

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