Why Cisco's Chuck Robbins Is Able To Move So Fast

It still needs to play out, but the meat of what Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins talks about in our cover story says a lot about the importance of why the next best CEO comes from inside a company.

In one of the conversations I had with then-Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman nearly two years ago, she mentioned she had told the board of directors that the next CEO needs to come from within the organization because it takes too long to learn all you need to know about a company of HP's size.

I completely agree, and the contrast right now with how quickly Cisco's Robbins is moving to push his company to the right strategy for the future is a proof point.

[Q&A: Presidio CEO Sounds Off On AWS, Chuck Robbins And Cisco's New Software Era]

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Whitman has done an excellent job, in my opinion, and has Hewlett Packard Enterprise in a very good position to be an even better company in the future. But it took time. Frankly, it took a lot of time.

Whitman needed to learn the ins and outs of the organization. Determine who was on the team and who wasn't. Build a long-term strategy and a plan to get there.

The list goes on and on, and here we find ourselves four years later with HPE as a separate company and growing again.

That brings me back to Cisco and Robbins who, like virtually all CEOs running a longtime supplier in high tech, faces no shortage of challenges. The technology and market forces are changing so fast that every company needs to continually transform.

But Robbins is less than one year into the role and he is putting forth a dramatic shift in how Cisco goes to market. It's a shift that will push Cisco and its channel partners into a recurring revenue stream by transforming the company into a software-driven model.

Robbins, a two-decade Cisco veteran who has run Cisco's sales force and its channel, knew the ropes the day he stepped into the CEO role. That is already proving to be a bonus for Cisco shareholders and its channel partners.

This industry needs longtime companies like Cisco, HP, Microsoft, Oracle and others to remain strong. It also needs new entrants that push the big boys and girls to remain competitive and dynamic.

The danger of becoming irrelevant in this industry is high, but it's highest among those companies that have no clear CEO in waiting from within the organization.

It's a difficult task for any current CEO and board of directors because those in waiting will only wait so long before they decide to go elsewhere. As such, the list of potential successors is always changing.

But Robbins, in my opinion, is already able to have a real impact on Cisco's future, whereas it took Whitman a number of years. One could argue no two companies are alike and what Whitman walked into at Hewlett-Packard was far different than what Robbins inherited.

All of that is true. However, Whitman is very smart and very capable and I'm certain HP would have changed far more quickly had she been a 10-year veteran on day one.

To me, if a board of directors of a major high-tech company says it has started an outside search for a new CEO, it's a sign of failure by that board. Stockholders and channel partners should be very nervous when that news breaks.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of The Channel Company. You can contact him via email at [email protected].