Cisco’s CEO John Chambers is stepping aside after 20 years, a period which saw the company’s annual revenues grow from $US70M to over $40B. His successor, Chuck Robbins, has some big shoes to fill. How will he do that?
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I’ve never been the CEO of a large company but I have worked in one where the CEO changed twice during the 10 years I was there. The first change was because of a board decision and the second was as the result of a merger. The switch change was smooth and saw the company move forward; the second was less enjoyable although a lot of that was due to a new corporate culture.
Over the course of this year, I’ve been to two events where the CEO has recently changed –- RSA Conference and Cisco Live.
With RSA, the difference was stark. Under previous CEO Art Coviello RSA was a very conservative-looking company. Everyone wore suits and ties, spoke very seriously about security and reflected on the professionalism of the company. With new CEO Amit Yoran, the button-down look was gone with polo shirts becoming the new corporate uniform. Even the guys in suits had lost their ties and staff told me about team building activities like an unannounced day trip to the snow.
Listening to Cisco’s Chambers and Robbins banter earlier in the week at a press briefing, it seemed clear to me the transition between CEOs would be far gentler that what I saw at RSA.
Robbins is not an outsider, having been at Cisco since 1997. That will give the board confidence he can continue the journey started by his predecessor. And, although he has chosen his own leadership team, Chambers will remain at the company as chairman and will work in the business part-time.
Ordinarily, that might seem like a sign of low confidence in the new leader but watching the two together earlier in the week it seems less like a master and apprentice and more like two masters working together — albeit one has more experience.
When I was appointed to a leadership role a few years ago, even though the hiring process had been going for about three months, the team I took over (including the interim manager that had been in the role for several months) only found out I was arriving the afternoon before my first day. That wasn’t good for anyone and it took several months for things to settle down.
All of this has made me curious. Many Lifehacker readers will have experienced management transitions. What are the characteristics of good transitions? What makes a management transition go poorly? We’re keen to here about your experiences.
Disclaimer: Anthony Caruana travelled to RSA Conference in San Francisco as a guest of Symantec and Cisco Live in San Diego as a guest of Cisco.