John Chambers recently retired as chief executive of Cisco Systems, but he’s hardly the retiring type. He remains Cisco’s executive chairman, he’s still traveling the globe meeting leaders of government and Cisco’s customers, and he retains his skill for articulating better than most of his peers where the technology world is going.
Chambers is an eternal optimist. A salesman by trade and a manager for decades, he’s adept at seeing the proverbial cup half full. That’s why it was notable Monday afternoon at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco to hear Chambers warning as much about risks as trumpeting opportunities. He sees the trend toward “digitization”—the injection of digital technologies into every type of business—as presenting a mortal threat to even the most powerful technology companies. “Forty percent of the companies in this room will not be around in a meaningful way in 10 years,” he told an audience chock full of CEOs from around the world.
Cisco isn’t exempt from its chairman’s warnings. He cited statistics for how the switch and router maker has radically changed out its salesforce, not because of weak talent but because of a need for new skills.
As comfortable in the halls of power as the executive suite, Chambers is a believer in the power of government. He praised the leadership of Prime Minister Modi in India and President Hollande in France for promoting business-friendly policies. Closer to home, the only politician Chambers, a Republican, had any kind words for was Bill Clinton, whose administration saw unprecedented economic growth. (He dodged a suggestion that he is positioning himself for a cabinet post in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)
Chambers also addressed the direction of the global economy, and his statement totally startled me. “For the first time in my life I have no opinion as to which way it is going to go,” he said.
John Chambers having no opinion on the direction of the global economy? That’s the very definition of uncertainty.
BITS AND BYTES
Dell mulls sale of non-core assets. Reuters cites sources who suggest that the company is shopping SonicWall, its cybersecurity unit; Quest Software, which sells IT management applications; and its IT service team, created after the acquisition of Perot Systems. The goal is to raise up to $10 billion to fund the EMC transaction. (Reuters)
Activision-Blizzard offers $5.9 billion for Candy Crush creator. Its proposal to buy King Digital Entertainment would solidify the company’s position as the world’s largest publisher of computer games and other interactive entertainment. Equally important: the union addresses Activision’s relatively weak presence on mobile devices. (Fortune)
Jawbone and Fitbit legal fight gets uglier. The two wearable technology companies are embroiled in a dispute over intellectual property. In the latest twist, Jawbone is accusing Fitbit of antitrust violations that are “part of its by-any-means-necessary campaign to impede competitors and preserve its dominant position in the fitness-tracker market.” Meanwhile, Fitbit is asking the International Trade Commission to halt certain Jawbone imports, citing patent infringement. (Wall Street Journal)
Amazon covers fathers with new parental leave benefit. The new policy, which takes effect Jan. 1 and was outlined in an internal email, grants birth mothers up to 20 weeks with their new babies. The benefit provides that all new parents who have worked at the company for at least one year receive a minimum of six weeks of paid time off. (Seattle Times)
Report: Square’s IPO road show could begin next week. According to CNBC, Jack Dorsey’s digital payments disruptor could start pitching investors before mid-November. That timing would enable the company to go public before Thanksgiving. Square’s last funding round in 2014 valued Square at $6 billion. (Fortune)
Drone market leader makes commercial drones smarter. Approximately 70% of the tests blessed by the FAA involve technology from Chinese technology company DJI. Its latest product is a powerful onboard computer, priced around $500, that has as much processing power as a smartphone. The upshot: more sophisticated business applications. (Fortune)
Alphabet targets 2017 for first official drone deliveries. The Google parent may build out an entire air traffic control system to coordinate flights, according to the senior leader for the project, David Vos. Alphabet’s plan is to create a commercial business capable of reaching consumers by 2017. Vos’ remarks came during a speech at a convention in Washington. (Reuters)
How Larry Page decides on his next big bet
Google’s co-founder now runs a constellation of companies, called Alphabet, that tackles everything from searching the Internet to extending human life. So how does he figure out what challenge to take on next?
It’s quite simple, actually. His company was created by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. “Is that thing really, really important?,” Page told attendees of the Fortune Global Forum conference in San Francisco on Monday. “Is it going to affect a lot, a lot of people?” Watch video coverage of Page’s interview with Fortune Editor Alan Murray. Plus, catch additional coverage of the forum at this link.
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
The key to corporate cybersecurity: basic hygiene by Adam Lashinsky
Google’s self-driving cars are learning how to act around kids
by Kirsten Korosec
Two new Hewlett Packards get a mixed welcome on Wall Street
by Jonathan Vanian
Protesters occupy Airbnb HQ on eve of San Francisco vote by Time
Smart buildings are boring, but these startups aren’t
by Stacey Higginbotham
Exclusive: Dropbox signs Mexican and European partners to nab more users by Heather Clancy
Ignore the Internet of things at your own peril by Jonathan Vanian
ONE MORE THING
Amazon is opening a “real life” store in Seattle, while Google hits the pause button on retail. Like Apple and Microsoft, Amazon wants to try its hand at brick-and-mortar retail sales. It will make merchandise choices using its online ratings. At the same time, it looks like Google is backing off its own retail aspirations. It is sub-leasing the New York location it picked for its first store. (Fortune, Crain’s New York Business)