New Cisco CEO: 'Channel Guy' Robbins Sees Partner Expansion Ahead

Incoming Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who is being called the "partners' choice" for the job, sees channel expansion ahead as the networking leader aims to become the No. 1 IT company in the world.

"We view our historical partner community as a tremendous competitive advantage, which is actually the envy of all of tech -- everybody would love to have our partner community -- but we also see that expanding across a broader ecosystem, and we think it's absolutely critical for our success in the future," Robbins said when asked by CRN how his channel roots will impact his strategy in the new role.

Robbins' pledge to broaden Cisco's channel base comes as the company is moving quickly to add application developers and partners with more software expertise. "There is an ecosystem that is necessary, particularly at the pace that we're moving, and as this next wave of digitization occurs, there are different application players, there are software companies out there that will begin to write applications that will take advantage of [Application Programming Interfaces] that we expose in the Cisco portfolio," he said during a conference call Monday with journalists.

[Related: Cisco's New CEO Robbins On Getting Into 'Execution Mode' And Accelerating The Cybersecurity Offensive]

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Effective July 26, Robbins will succeed Cisco CEO John Chambers, who has led the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant through a number of treacherous market transitions over his 20 years at the helm.

"My goal, candidly, is to make the next decade better than the last two, and I look forward to getting started," said Robbins, who was also named to the Cisco board, effective May 1.

Robbins supporters from both within Cisco and its partner community lauded him as an executive who will carry the channel flag through Cisco's next major market transition.

"For someone who has been such a proponent of the channel as Chuck has, for him to be now in the CEO role is going to be fantastic, because he inherently -- not just academically -- is a channel guy," said Edison Peres, senior vice president of Cisco's cloud and managed services partner organization, in an interview with CRN. "He really understands the value the partners bring to the table and to the sales process, and the value proposition that Cisco brings."

Peres -- who has worked side by side with Robbins at Cisco for 13 years, including five years within the Cisco channel organization when Robbins was U.S. channel chief -- said that as a Cisco insider, Robbins will be able to hit the ground running.

"Bringing in someone from the outside would have been much more dangerous," said Peres. "Having a strong individual like Chuck who everybody likes, he's going to be able to build the energy of the organization in a very quick way. He's the fan favorite."

Ethan Simmons, vice president, East, for Lumenate, a Cisco partner based in Marlborough, Mass., called Robbins the "partners' choice" for the job.

"Chuck is the Cisco executive that a lot of us have developed our business with over the years. John was a great leader and I think everyone realizes that he guided Cisco as well as partners through a lot of change over the past 20 years, but I think partners see Chuck as almost one of us," Simmons said. "He has been so involved with [partners] day in and day out at the field level, so we're excited to have someone that's shared the same experiences as the partners have working together going forward."

Robbins said Cisco is well-positioned to take advantage of current market shifts.

"I believe our strategy is working, and our customers and partners believe our strategy is working. I think we feel momentum, we've seen it the last couple of quarters and we feel very good where we are in the marketplace," Robbins said.

Chambers, who also participated in the conference call, will become executive chairman of the company July 26, continuing his role as chairman of the board.

After beginning the succession planning process three years ago when Chambers first publicly disclosed plans to retire by 2016, Cisco's board went through an intense 16-month search to find its next CEO, including the past 10 months, during which candidates were closely engaged with the board, Chambers said.

The board's decision to select Robbins as the company's next CEO was unanimous, Chambers said.

"During that time, Chuck just pulled away from all of his peers, both internal and external, and it was unanimous with the board at our very first straw vote," Chambers said.

Chambers several times throughout the conference call expressed his pride in Robbins, noting at one point, "I believe in you in a big way." He praised Robbins' ability to turn vision into actual results.

"Chuck is just an execution machine. He takes vision and strategy and can turn it into results," said Chambers. "In the complex approach we're about to make in the market, the coordination across engineering and 18 major product families … across services and sales, he does this extremely well."

Chambers also praised Robbins for building strong channel partnerships. "He builds great teams, and he's done that on a global basis and led a huge amount of our partnering momentum. When you talk to our partners, they will sing his praises. That's where 80 percent of our business [comes in]," Chambers said.

Cisco's financial guidance for its third fiscal quarter, results of which will be disclosed May 13, remains unchanged, said Chambers.

In handing the reins to Robbins, Chambers said he had total faith in the 17-year Cisco sales veteran's ability to lead the company into the future.

"You are going to be a great leader here. I couldn't be more excited about being your coach and available to do whatever you want as executive chairman," Chambers said to Robbins. "But you will be running this company and I know you'll do a great job and take us to the [top spot as the] No. 1 IT company."