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

Robbins On His New Role

Incoming Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who will take the helm of the networking giant effective July 26, spoke with the press Monday about his 90 day game plan and the need for the networking giant to up its cybersecurity game. Here is an edited excerpt from the question and answer session.

What are you going to do over the next 90 days?

You can expect over the next 90 days that I actually like to listen.

I think the market is moving too rapidly for any one individual to think that they have all the answers. I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to our employees, listening to my peers, our leadership team, listening to customers and partners and then we're going to build our plan and then we're going move into execution mode on day one because as (Cisco CEO and Chairman) John (Chambers) and I both know, when Cisco gets into execution mode we tend to be pretty unbeatable. I'm very excited.

What is your focus right now?

I believe our strategy is working and I believe our customers think our strategy is working, but what I do believe is there [are] areas within the strategy that we can actually accelerate.

I think we're going to identify and prioritize the areas [where] we can actually move faster. We're going identify those areas that perhaps aren't moving as fast as we'd like and we're going to accelerate them and we'll make the appropriate trade-offs to optimize where we are relative to the opportunity with our customers two to three years out.

I believe in clarity and you will see us over the coming years be very clear both internally and externally around both our business strategy as well as our technology strategy.

Is cybersecurity going to play a bigger role in Cisco's strategy going forward?

I'm going to have the conversation about where we need to accelerate. That's definitely one of them. … It will be a huge area of focus for us.

If you step back and think about what we're doing with our customers in this move that we see all of them making in the future, it's going to require several things. It's going to require a tremendous pace of innovation inside both our organization as well as customers, which we believe that most of our customers now realize, will be enabled by rapid-pace IT capabilities but all of that has to be underpinned by a strong security capability.

Will Cisco invest more in security?

As you think about what our customers are dealing with today, the one common element across the entire infrastructure -- whether it's my private infrastructure out to the cloud, across mobile devices, coming in from coffee shops, taxis and airplanes -- the one thing that's pervasive across that entire continuum is the network. We believe this is a tremendous architectural opportunity for us around security and you'll see us actually invest even greater.

How do you feel your experience working with the channel partner base will influence strategy as you move into the CEO role?

If you step back and think about how we accelerate with our customers and how we align against the things they need, we bring a great deal of that technology to bear, but 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 APIs that we expose in the Cisco portfolio.

Not only do we view our historical partner community as a tremendous competitive advantage [that] is actually the envy of all of tech … but we also see that expanding across a broader ecosystem and we think it's absolutely critical for our success in the future.

How does it feel to be selected after a 16-month-long process?

It was tremendous for me, personally, to spend 16 months, the last 10 months really engaged with the board and building out what I believe we need to do to take the company into the next decade. We continued to evolve with the conversation throughout the entire 10-month period.

I'm humbled and very honored with the announcement made today. I've been at Cisco for 17 years and every day I wake up thinking that I can't be more excited or this place can't get any better and it just continues to do so.

How big is this next IT wave of digitization?

If you think about what we did here in the late 1990s, I believe the next wave that we're facing -- the digitization, which is enabled by the Internet of Everything -- will fundamentally be two to five to 10 times bigger than anything we've seen in the past.

If you look at what has made us great, whether it's the connectivity and the convergence and value we've driven on top of that, that is the foundation of what's going to enable this digitization wave with our customers in the future.

We are well positioned and, candidly, I think our customers expect us to help them through this next wave. I'm excited about the future.

Are you looking at adding data analytics to your IoE strategy? And what partnerships are you looking at in that space?

Many of our customers are very interested in us helping them move into digitization with the IoE [Internet of Everything] as the foundation of that and, as we talked to them, what we're really going to need is a fully distributed architecture.

Over time, the entire IT enterprise is going to be a dynamic asset. What we believe is that there'll be assets from compute, to storage, to analytics, and all of those technologies will be needed.

We believe that the application layer that will be connected to the value derived from IoT [Internet of Things] should have the ability to dynamically allocate whatever resources that it needs at any given time.

Where do you see the low-hanging fruit in IoE and the areas where you have to move quickly around IoE?

Many of the initiatives we have today with our [Application Centric Infrastructure] is the convergence of the application and technology infrastructure, as well as the IoE play, is simply the convergence of this next wave of industrial protocol.

What we believe is that fundamentally we will provide all the connectivity customers need to drive that. But there's another layer above that where leveraging the information that the sensors, as an example, are providing and being able to create perhaps application layers that expose a lot of the information that only the network has, we can actually enable our customers to take advantage of the information that they are garnering from all these devices. We think the network architecture is what's going to be necessary because you're going to need to be able to process all that information at the edge.

How do you feel about the future?

I believe our strategies work, and our customers and partners believe our strategies are working. I think we feel momentum and we've seen it the last couple of quarters and we feel very good [at] where we are in the marketplace.

I think our pace of innovation is at an all-time high. I'm extremely excited.

John [Chambers], I want to thank you, because you've built this company into one of the most successful, admired and impactful companies in history. I think we're on the verge of the most exciting transition that we've ever had. I believe we will lead in that transition. We're only on the very front end of what's possible, and my goal, candidly, is to make the next decade better than the last two and I look forward to getting started.