A Chat with John Chambers

jchambers4I wrapped things up in Cisco at the end of May and moved onto Kansas for the last week of the Kauffman Global Scholars Program ’08. Before moving on however I completed my project on the Connected Technologies for the IBSG team at Cisco. Before I left I also had the privilege to talk with John Chambers (wiki, Bio, Time, Forbes) of Cisco Systems. Since January 1995, when he assumed the role of CEO, John has grown the company from $1.2 billion in annual revenues to its current run-rate of approximately $40 billion. In November 2006, he was named Chairman of the Board, in addition to his CEO role. I managed to get some of his time and attention thanks to a common friend of ours. The main question I had for him was simply what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs, and what motivates him now that he is CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is below, some of which is reiterating what I had heard throughout my time as a Kauffman Global Scholar, but coming from a MNC hi-tech titan such as John really pushes the statements home:
1. Markets
– Try to catch a market in transition
– Come with the capability to differentiate yourself from your peers in a market
– Be realistic – have you got a market in transition
– Be realistic – does your business actually differentiate you from your peers
2. Team
– Its all about the quality of your team
– If you have a great team that you can motivate well – its hard not to be successful
– If you have just very average players – then its very difficult to win

When I asked him about what motivates him:
3. Motivates him now:
– Building a company that has the chance to be the best for the world, and best in the world
– Cisco’s role in the hi-tech industry has the chance to really dramatically be different from any other hi-tech company in history, and also to be dramatically different in terms of how they’re viewed in the world, and not only how they give back, but how they’re able to partner with countries, companies and citizens in a unique way to really make a difference in their lives and the standard of living of their organisations
– He considers Cisco a family; one that works together towards common opportunities and common challenges, and its one that really cares about each other and one that is probably one of the best places to work. They watch out for each other like a family. Its making that difference that motivates him, and realising that it is a once in a life opportunity for everyone
4. Motivated him initially:
– Loves competition
– Loves building organisation
– Loves teamwork
– Loves to win
– Loves to sell (admitted candidly!)

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