Cisco Partners: There's An 'Internal Power Struggle' Under Way As Four Insieme Leaders Head For The Door

Four of Cisco Systems' top engineers are leaving the company after an internal reorganization that some Cisco partners say is creating a power struggle between CEO Chuck Robbins and longtime Cisco leaders.

Soni Jiandani, Mario Mazzola, Prem Jaim and Luca Cafiero -- all Cisco veterans who led the research and development of several of Cisco "spin-ins" including Insieme in 2012 -- are set to leave June 17, according to the company. Mazzola, Jaim and Cafiero had been demoted to advisory roles last week.

According to an internal memo from Robbins obtained by CRN, the executives’ decision to leave is "based on a disconnect regarding roles, responsibilities and charter that came to light’ after Cisco disclosed plans to place its Insieme business under the leadership of David Goeckeler, who will head the newly created Networking & Security Business Group. The Insieme unit, currently led by Jiandani, is responsible for Cisco's next-generation data center solutions including data center analytics, orchestration and its software-defined networking strategy, which includes its Application Centric Infrastructure – now at a $2.2 billion run rate.

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"You’re starting to see the sort of behind-the-scenes internal power struggle going on between [Cisco] executives and what Robbins is trying to build a new Cisco on -- it came into public light here," said a top executive from a solution provider that is a longtime Cisco partner.

"These are four Cisco loyalists by all accounts. … Soni is at, or she even talks [on stage], at their biggest public events in front of thousands and thousands of people," said the executive, who asked not to be identified.

In the internal memo, Robbins said the four individuals "are some of the most innovative engineering and business leaders in Silicon Valley." The CEO said their positive influence on Cisco dates back to 1993.

In a statement to CRN from Cisco, Robbins said, "I want to recognize Mario, Prem, Luca and Soni for the countless contributions they have made to Cisco. I have personally learned so much from them, and they will always be an important part of Cisco’s engineering story."

In March, Robbins shocked the Cisco universe when he unveiled his plans to reorganize the company's 25,000-member engineering unit.

Key executive changes in March included CTO Zorawar Biri Singh taking over Cisco's Intercloud team. Also in March, CRN learned that Yvette Kanouff would be leading the new Service Provider organization, which combined several service provider segments under one umbrella.

On May 31, CRN learned that Nick Earle – who partners have dubbed a "founding father" of Cisco's cloud and Intercloud strategy – would be leaving the company after 12 years. CRN also learned last month that Cisco's global service provider leader, Nick Adamo, was leaving after a 21-year stint with the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

Chris Bottger, chief technology officer at IVCi, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, said Robbins’ reorganization, geared toward faster product innovation and speed to market, is ruffling the feathers of some of the company's longtime leaders.

"There's going to be people inside of that [who] just can't deal with that change in regime," said Bottger. "What you're seeing from Chuck is, 'If we can't invest in it ourselves, we're not going to hang around and wait for it' – and that's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, especially from an engineering perspective. … Some of the old-guard engineers don't necessarily like that because they want to be able to invent everything themselves."

Bottger said Cisco also is gaining high-level engineering talent from the slew of acquisitions the company has made over the past 12 months.

"There's a lot of talent that gets scooped up from these acquisitions -- people from Acano, people from Tropo, CliQr – that we don't talk about," said Bottger. "I see it as the next generation of engineering talent coming in and it's going to rub some of the people the wrong way."