Cisco Losing Top Technology Visionary, Partners Sorry To See Him Go

Pankaj Patel

Pankaj Patel, the leading technologist for the networking giant, plans to step down in the second half of the year.

Patel was selected in June by new CEO Chuck Robbins to join his inner circle "next-generation" leadership team, and was tasked with leading Cisco's innovation strategy into the future. The 20-year Cisco veteran was responsible for driving innovation in Cisco's networking and data center architectures -- leading the company's $36 billion global technology portfolio and its 26,000 engineers.

Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure and network services at Long View Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, said Patel was the visionary for Cisco's technology road map.

[Related: 12 Top Cisco Execs Who Left In 2015 (And Where They Landed)]

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"Every Cisco channel partner owes him a debt of gratitude because we all have been successful based on the innovations and technologies he's championed," said MacDonald. "We've all been the benefactors of his innovation."

His departure comes just four months after the exit of Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior. Some partners are worried that Patel's departure leaves the company without a technology superstar to drive Cisco's future strategy.

"Warrior just left," said one top executive from a solution provider and Cisco partner -- ranked on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500 list -- who declined to be named. "She was sort of the role of the technology facing conversation of Cisco and now with Patel leaving, who was sort of the background technology conversation, it's definitely interesting times for Cisco."

The sudden exit was announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, with no explanation of why Patel, executive vice president and chief development officer, is leaving Cisco.

In a statement to CRN, Cisco said Patel "has decided to step down from his current role in the second half of 2016," although they did not provide information on who his replacement would be.

"Although we have no immediate changes to announce, Pankaj will work with CEO Chuck Robbins to effect a smooth transition and ensure Cisco's engineering team remains the industry's best," said Cisco.

Patel currently helps define Cisco's technology innovation strategy in the areas of routing, switching, security, video, collaboration, data center and cloud offerings. He has served as senior vice president and general manager for Cisco's service provider business, leading the market segment in routing, video and mobility.

He was a founding leader of Cisco's first multi-service access business unit as well as being responsible for the Cisco IGX product line and software development for all of Cisco's ATM switches, according to his bio.

Patel is just one of the slew of top Cisco executives who has left or is planning to leave the company since the appointment of new CEO Robbins in May. Some of the biggest executives who've left: Rob Lloyd, president, development and sales; channel veteran and cloud leader Edison Peres; and Warrior.

Partners are predicting that a replacement will be named before next month's Cisco Partner Summit 2016 in San Diego.

"I'm sure with Partner Summit approaching, that Chuck will have someone in place by then," said the executive on the CRN SP500 list.

In 2014, former CEO John Chambers named Patel as one of Cisco's rising stars, saying he's a "franchise player" who is always willing to "get his hands dirty" with Cisco technology.

Partners said Cisco has a "deep bench" of executives who could possibly take over Patel's role. "I'm sure Cisco's got people nine deep that they're looking to fill his role," said the executive on CRN's SP500 list.