Cisco Partners React To Reports That Chambers Could Be Stepping Down As CEO This Fall

The long-churning rumor mill surrounding the retirement of John Chambers was re-ignited Wednesday after reports that the Cisco CEO could be leaving his post this fall as part of a broad corporate re-organization.

LightReading, citing an anonymous source, reported that Chambers, 65, could announce his retirement next month and step down in September at the close of Cisco's fiscal year.

In a separate report, independent journalist R. Scott Raynovich, author of The Rayno Report blog, quoted unnamed sources that said Chambers could announce his retirement in September.

Chambers said in 2012 that he planned to retire within two to four years. He has been Cisco's CEO since 1995.

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A Cisco spokesperson declined to comment on the reports, citing company policy of not responding to rumors or speculation. The spokesperson also told CRN that Cisco doesn't intend to talk publicly about its leadership succession plans until Chambers reveals his intention to retire.

If Chambers does step down this fall, Cisco partners told CRN they would have mixed feelings on the change in leadership.

"Chambers has done a great job navigating difficult water in the past," said David Powell, vice president of managed and cloud services at TekLinks, a Birmingham, Ala.-based Cisco partner.

"When Cisco got a little too wide with different adjacencies, Chambers refocused them on what they do well and has been able to stay ahead of the market. There was always this comfort that came from knowing he was the steady hand at the helm of the ship."

Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca, a New York-based Cisco partner, said if Chambers does retire, he would like to see him continue to play a key role in shaping Cisco's overall direction as a company.

"John has always been successful in getting everyone on the same train to go in the same direction," Berzack said. "My opinion is that [his retirement] could have potential upswing for us as partners. If John were to lose his day-to-day obligations, he would have an even stronger ability to deal with Cisco's overall vision and communicating that vision to the partner community."

NEXT: Some Partners Think The Time Is Right For Change In Leadership

All of the Cisco partners CRN spoke with view Chambers as an industry icon, with many likening his legacy at Cisco to Steve Jobs' at Apple or Bill Gates' at Microsoft. But some solution providers acknowledged that a leadership change could help the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant make a smoother transition to the cloud computing and software-defined networking era.

"It's going to be a different Cisco because of the prevalence of cloud and hybrid cloud, and maybe a fresh set of legs is what Cisco needs to go through that journey," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure at Cisco partner Long View Systems. "I would want to start that race and have a consistent leader versus changing the horse halfway through."

MacDonald noted that Cisco has a strong lineup of potential successors to Chambers, including Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales; Chuck Robbins, senior vice president of worldwide field operations; and Edzard Overbeek, senior vice president of services.

But one Cisco partner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he would like to see Chamber's successor come from outside Cisco. Ideally, this executive would be willing to guide Cisco away from its predominantly hardware-centric roots and drive it instead toward software, services and cloud, said the partner.

"For years, [Cisco] has had a hardware-oriented business, but hardware is being a commodity. It's all about the software," the partner said. "They've got to turn the whole ship, and it will have to be a cradle-to-grave overhaul of how they do business. They need to bring in an outsider that didn’t build their career based on hardware."

Either way, the partner said, when Chambers does retire – be it this fall or otherwise -- his mark will long be left on the IT world.

"He made Cisco the market leader in networking. There is no question," he said. "It’s a Bill Gates-type legacy. He is a world-changing guy."