By Robert Hackett and Adam Lashinsky
August 26, 2015

Cisco has a new CEO, Chuck Robbins, who is moving remarkably quickly to put his stamp on the venerable company. It’s remarkable because Robbins, who is 49, recently succeeded a Silicon Valley legend, John Chambers, now executive chairman.

As Fortune’s Jonathan Vanian has noted, Robbins has made an impressive debut.He recently presided over a solid financial quarter, with modest sales and earnings improvements that compared favorably with declines at fellow industry behemoths. In an interview at Cisco’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters Tuesday, Robbins discussed his ambitions to make Cisco speedier in its decisionmaking, more focused on software to go with its industry-leading routers and switches, and increasingly responsive to investors and customers.

For many CEOs these are typically soothing words and little more. With Robbins, the words are convincing. A 17-year Cisco veteran and formerly head of worldwide sales, he projects confidence with some of the changes he’s making without being dismissive of his predecessor. He wants, for example, to continue to re-evaluate Cisco’s product portfolio, though he credits Chambers for the decision to divest Cisco’s cable set-top box business. Robbins is ending the operating committee approach Chambers used in favor of a more traditional executive leadership team. And he’s putting his stamp on that team. Already Robbins has recruited three outsiders for key strategy roles.

Robbins also is unabashedly attentive to Wall Street. Investors said they wanted less speechmaking and more time for dialogue in quarterly earnings calls, so he made both changes. He also is signaling that Cisco’s business model is in transition. Deferred revenue from software and subscription-based products was up 21% in the company’s most recent quarter. Investors love deferred-revenue models for their predictability.

It turns out it’s a good time for a new guy at Cisco as the company’s business is changing. Robbins notes that “connectivity”—that is, providing equipment that connects computers and other communications devices to the Internet—always has been Cisco’s strong suit. “Now connectivity isn’t good enough,” he says. Software that provides analytics, business insights, and security are key to the new package, especially when companies have so many information-technology assets outside their walls. “We’re moving from a data center to remote centers of data,” he says.

It’s a clever line that also has the benefit of succinctly describing the tech industry’s challenge and Cisco’s opportunity. Given that his predecessor was a master of straightforwardly explaining a complicated business, Chuck Robbins is off to a good start indeed.

Adam Lashinsky


Your usual curator Heather Clancy is away on vacation. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here, subbing in. You can reach me on Twitter (@rhhackett) or email Feedback welcome.


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