Since taking the reins at Cisco in 2015, CEO Chuck Robbins has projected an image of stability, even as the company navigates tricky challenges like the move from hardware-centric to software-defined networks. However, the company has seen a steady stream of executive departures since Robbins’ tenure began.
When Chuck Robbins took over as CEO of Cisco Systems, he had some large shoes to fill to replace the charismatic and long-tenured previous CEO John Chambers, who had served for more than 20 years. Robbins’ top priority on taking over was to project an image of stability and ensure existing customers (which essentially includes nearly every major company in every part of the world) that Cisco was still in good hands.
Fast forward three years, and it’s clear Robbins has largely accomplished this goal. Financial results are strong, margins are healthy, and the company’s stock trades at nearly $50/share, almost double from when Robbins took over.
But there’s a problem: the company keeps losing key executives. Since August alone, four key executives have left, including Hilton Romanski, Chief Strategy Officer; Yvette Kanouff, GM of the company’s Service Provider business; David Ulevitch, who had been in charge of the company’s successful Security segment; and Wendy Bahr, Global Channel Chief, who left the company after 18 years. The loss of Bahr is a particular concern given that Cisco is dependent on its 60,000 partners for most of its sales success.
Earlier this year, Cisco saw the departure of several additional high-profile executives, most notably Rowan Trollope, GM of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, who was regarded as an up-and-comer at Cisco but instead departed to become CEO of startup Five9 in May.
In fairness to the company, some of the executive turnover reflects the company’s ongoing pivot from its traditional hardware roots to a software-centric company. This has motivated some of the company’s recent new executive hires. In March, Cisco announced it had hired two new executives with strong software pedigrees to help bolster this move. The company’s new Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Gerri Elliott, brought seven years of experience as VP of worldwide corporate sales at Microsoft; while the company’s new Chief Customer Experience Officer, Maria Martinez, joined Cisco from Salesforce, where she served as president of its Customer Success Group and Success Cloud. This is also true in the service provider business, which hired a new CTO, Vijoy Pandey in June. Pandey headed engineering at Google and brings badly needed expertise in cloud and software.
But still, revolving executive doors raise eyebrows, especially considering some of the departures are of executives put in place after Robbins assumed the CEO role. The good news is that, thus far, customers and investors don’t seem too concerned.