What Does Cisco’s Big Move Mean for CEOs and CSOs?


Cisco Systems announced recently that Chuck Robbins will succeed long-time CEO John Chambers in July.


As senior vice president of worldwide operations, Robbins was not the obvious choice. In fact, many consider him to have been a dark horse candidate.


Could this signal the increasing importance of sales execution and channel partner management? Let’s look at little closer at this big move by the networking giant.


Sales Execution and Channel Partner Management Are More Important Than Ever.

As you know, making the number isn’t a simple exercise.


At the CSO level, it requires strategy, collaboration and navigating complex business environments.


A VP of Sales at the enterprise level needs strategic organization-wide focus. He also needs solid executional ability with direct sales skills and channel management.


Considering what is happening at Cisco, it’s easy to see the times are changing. In today’s market, this combination of skills is more prized than ever. In fact, this combination of skills may reflect the competencies of next-generation CEOs.


Today’s marketplace is radically different than even just ten years ago. Effective sales execution is driving more enterprise business. For companies like Cisco that rely on partners, channel partner management is a critical skill.


(Quick Aside: Our Channel Partner Scorecard continues to be one of our most used tools.  This reflects the important organizations, like Cisco, places on successful channel partner management.


As sales execution and channel partner management increase in importance, so do CSOs.


Consider Chuck Robbins – Newly Appointed CEO of Cisco.

Chuck Robbins didn’t match the mold of the traditional CEO. But when you look closer, it’s easy to see why he was chosen.


Since he joined Cisco in 1997, Robbins has held many leadership positions. Most notably in his role as SVP of Worldwide Field Operations he:


  • Led the company’s Worldwide Sales Organization and Worldwide Partner Organization
  • Drove and executed many of Cisco’s investment areas and strategy shifts
  • Sponsored the security and collaboration businesses at the executive level


Leadership. Strategy. Collaboration. These are the crucial elements in successful sales execution. Especially for a company that is trying to grow in this challenging post-dot-com market.


Cisco relies heavily on channel partnerships – an area of expertise for Robbins.

Cisco operates in a hyper-competitive and complex sales environment. Again, familiar territory for Robbins.


Corporate goals, marketing, sales, and product are critical to enterprise growth today. John Chambers saw that Chuck Robbins had the right competencies to weave these together.


It’s no wonder Robbins was chosen as Chambers’s successor. We will likely see more CEOs with his skill-set in the next few years.


Are Chief Sales Officers the New CEO Prototype?

In a word, yes. We believe that CSOs have the right skill-set to make ideal next-generation CEOs.


CSOs can manage complexity. They are focused on strategy but still understand how to execute. And maybe most importantly, CSOs can orchestrate organization-wide collaboration.


Those three competencies prepare CSOs for future success as CEOs in today’s enterprise environment.


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