The John Chambers era ended with little fanfare Monday as Cisco Systems' former CEO stepped down from his position as chairman of the board, officially leaving the leadership ranks of the company he helmed for 20 years, but the event didn't pass without a few heartfelt words from his successor, Chuck Robbins.
"You're the cornerstone in our history," Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told Chambers during the company's annual shareholder meeting Monday. "No other person is more responsible for Cisco's significant technological and societal contributions, and you'll always be a part of Cisco just as I imagine Cisco will always be a part of you."
Shareholders elected Robbins, along with a slate of other candidates, to the Cisco board, and he is expected to be appointed chairman. Chambers, who was CEO between 1995 and 2015, announced last September that he would step down from the chairmanship when his term ended.
Chambers Monday looked back on a 27-year career with Cisco, and said the company under Robbins is poised to lead a rapidly changing IT market.
"You're going to see a company that will lead in digitization and continue to change the world," Chambers said. "When you look at our employees and look at the pride they have in the organization, it's what really makes me most excited. This company has the courage to dream big dreams like nobody else. It sets audacious goals of being one or two in everything we do."
Under Chambers' leadership, Cisco grew from $1.2 billion in revenue to $47 billion. "Everybody likes to write about the success, but it's really how you handle your challenges and your setbacks that determine if you've got a great company or not."
"We had the courage to say we can change the world and do it to the benefit of creating unprecedented opportunities for our shareholders, our customers, our employees and our partners," Chambers said. "We had the opportunity to also establish a culture, which is what I'm probably most proud of."
Chambers joined Cisco in 1991 as head of sales, and was CEO from 1995 to July of 2015. He's been a member of the board of directors since 1993. He'll now have the honorary title of chairman emeritus.
Cisco partners said Monday that Chambers leaves a legacy of channel advocacy, respect and communication. Robbins, partners said, is so far proving himself up to the task of carrying on that legacy.
"I watched the Cisco organization turn from a fairly unfriendly position on the channel to one that's the best in the business," said Michael Girouard, executive vice president of sales at Teklinks, a Birmingham, Ala., Cisco partner. "Cisco's channel program sets the bar. It's the one we compare to every other, and they did that under John's leadership."