Partners Applaud 'People's Choice' Robbins As Next Cisco CEO

Solution providers Monday applauded the choice of Chuck Robbins, the 17-year Cisco Systems veteran and former U.S. channel chief, as the next CEO of the networking behemoth.

Robbins, who has led the company's $45 billion global sales team as senior vice president of worldwide operations for the past two and a half years, will take the helm July 26.

Robbins also was elected to Cisco’s board of directors, effective May 1.

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John Chambers, 65, who has been CEO for the past 20 years, will continue to serve as chairman of the Cisco board. In addition, Chambers, who began transitioning Cisco to a channel sales model when he took the helm in 1995, will assume the role of executive chairman July 26.

"Chuck is the people's choice," said Mont Phelps, CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based NWN, No. 81 on the CRN 2014 Solution Provider 500 list. "He has come up through the ranks and is a solid channel advocate and proven sales leader. He knows all the major channel players in the U.S. Chuck has a warmth and connection with people that is rarely seen at the CEO level of companies like this."

The question of Cisco's CEO succession was first raised in 2012 when Chambers said he planned to pass the baton by 2016.

Phelps said Robbins' high channel touch will be critical as Cisco transitions partners and its own field sales force to sell more software and services rather than focusing solely on networking equipment.

"Chuck knows the subtleties of how to get things done within Cisco," said Phelps. "That is going to be a huge advantage as we all make this business model transition to providing IT as a service rather than just selling boxes. I think he is the right guy to drive that cloud transition. I can't think of anybody better to get it done."

Sam Haffar, CEO of Houston-based Computex Technology Solutions, No. 123 on the CRN 2014 Solution Provider 500 list, called Robbins the "real deal."

"I love Chuck," said Haffar. "He is genuine. He understands solution providers and knows how important they are to Cisco. He grew up under Chambers and knows the Cisco ecosystem. It is great to see one of the good guys win."

Haffar said he sees the Robbins appointment as the start of a new chapter in the long-running Cisco channel partnership and success story.

"We just came back from Partner Summit and everyone is pumped about Cisco," said Haffar. "Now we are even more pumped up to hear about Chuck's new role as CEO. We think Chambers is awesome as a leader and we are happy to hear he is staying on as executive chairman for continuity."

Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure and network services at Long View Systems, a Cisco Gold partner based in Calgary, Alberta, said he expects Robbins to "re-energize" partners and the Cisco field sales force. "Chuck has certainly been the revenue engine for Cisco," he said. "He's definitely the right choice."

MacDonald said he sees the appointment of Robbins as a "fabulous" choice for partners. "Chuck has grown up with Cisco and has been in the commercial market and on the channel running sales; his understanding about Cisco and the partners and the customers brings a lot of comfort around continuity -- it's reassuring as a partner," said MacDonald.

MacDonald said his Cisco business is strong and believes Robbins as CEO will "put Cisco's foot on the accelerator."

In a prepared statement, Chambers said it is the "perfect time" for Robbins to take over as CEO.

"Our next CEO needs to thrive in a highly dynamic environment, to be capable of accelerating what is working very well for Cisco, and disrupting what needs to change," said Chambers. "Chuck is unique in his ability to translate vision and strategy into world-class execution, bringing together teams and ecosystems to drive results. Chuck knows every Cisco segment, technology area, and geography, and will move the company forward with the speed required to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us. He is a champion of the Cisco culture and has an incredible ability to inspire, energize, and connect with employees, partners, customers and global leaders. Chuck's vision, strategy and execution track record is exactly what Cisco needs as we enter our next chapter, which I am confident will be even more impactful and exciting than our last."