Cisco CEO John Chambers is betting that new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has the right stuff as a hard-driving "change agent" to lead the software giant successfully into the future.
"It's a hard job and I don’t underestimate the challenges that Satya will face, but if I were betting on whether he's going to be successful, I think he absolutely will be," Chambers said in a recent interview with CRN.
Chambers, noting that he doesn't usually speak so candidly on his industry "peers," deemed Nadella a "breath of fresh air" in terms of his willingness to make changes at Microsoft.
Nadella in July -- just six months after taking the top spot at Microsoft -- told employees in an email that he is not going to follow the same "devices and services" strategy that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pursued through moves like Microsoft's $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia's phone business last year.
Just days after Nadella's email, Microsoft revealed plans to cut 18,000 jobs over the next year, with 12,500 of them coming from its Nokia division. Microsoft partners dubbed the move tough, but "overdue" in order to simplify Microsoft's corporate structure and make the company more nimble overall.
"While some people might second guess [Nadella] on his strategy or his implementation or his decision to size the organization right, those are decisions leaders have to make," Chambers said, adding that you can "probably count on one hand" the successful high-tech CEO transitions over the last 30 years. "You can't lead if you don't make the tough decisions."
The Cisco-Microsoft partnership could become the strongest it's ever been with Nadella at the helm, Chambers said.
"We have probably done more with Microsoft with Satya in the last year than we had in multiple years before that," Chambers said.
Chambers expects Cisco and Microsoft to especially strengthen their ties in the data center market while Nadella is at the helm. He pointed out that Nadella joined Cisco on stage last November for the launch of Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) SDN solution.
"It wasn't that we didn't get along well with the [previous] leadership at Microsoft; we got along very well," Chambers said. "But watch our data center announcements together. Watch what we do in terms of the market."
While still long-time competitors in markets like unified communications, Microsoft and Cisco are, in fact, taking steps to team up in the data center. Chambers' comments on Nadella came just one week after Microsoft and Cisco inked a new three-year partnership through which the companies will work together to drive deeper integration across their data center offerings, including Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) and Microsoft's Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server and Microsoft Azure.
NEXT: The New Microsoft-Cisco Partnership