EARLY ACCESS Q&A: New Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins heads into "hyper-connected" mode

EARLY ACCESS Q&A: New Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins heads into "hyper-connected" mode

When Cisco employees head into work Monday they'll encounter something they haven't seen in two decades: A new boss

When Cisco Systems employees head into work Monday they'll encounter something they haven't seen in two decades: A new boss. Chuck Robbins -- formerly senior vice president of worldwide operations -- takes over as CEO from John Chambers, one of the most visible and quotable figures in business.

In this early-access interview with John Gallant, chief content officer of IDG US Media, Robbins sets out his priorities for Cisco and his new management team, and talks about the opportunities and challenges facing the network giant. Robbins dissects the competitive landscape and explains why so-called 'white box' data center gear and software-defined networks are not the threats to Cisco that some pundits contend. He also describes his vision for the "hyper-connected architecture" that will speed customer digitization efforts and help IT capture the value in the Internet of Things. Finally, Robbins talks about life at Cisco under a leader not named John.

Chuck, what do you bring to this role that's different than what John brought to it?

John has done an amazing job here for 20 years and he's an icon in the industry. He's an icon globally - in the political scene, the corporate world. He's done a phenomenal job. There are two things that I think about. One, I came up through the company so I have a clear understanding of how things work and, sometimes, how things don't work around here. The second big thing is that John has been very present and has had a sense of ownership relative to the company strategy for most of his time as CEO. My view is that the market is too complex, moving too fast. We have to shift to creating a very diverse leadership team that has very different perspectives. Then we have to take advantage of those perspectives to drive our strategy going forward - and that does not mean slow. It means fast collaboration, leverage the value of the diversity that we have and move quickly together. That's one of the things that John and I have talked about and he agrees with me. He's talked about it publicly. The biggest difference I see going forward is how we're going to have to move with speed but leverage a lot of diverse input.

Was that the motivation behind the flatter organizational structure that's been announced already with the changes on the management team?

Yes, I think we are going to have to move with greater speed and no one would deny that smaller teams can move faster. That's why when you're building small teams that have to move fast, it's so important to get the right mix of experience.

We'll talk about where you think you need to act with greater speed, but at a higher level what do you want customers to understand about this leadership transition and the future of Cisco under your leadership?

In the last six weeks [since the CEO transition was announced], we have been around the world and we've sat down with country leaders in India and France and the UK. We've met with leaders in China, leaders in Germany, leaders in Italy. We have had Fortune 500 company after company coming through here to talk to us about how we can help them leverage technology to fundamentally define the future strategy of their businesses. The vision we have around what's going to happen relative to IoE [Internet of Everything], IoT, the whole notion of digitizing business, is very accurate. I believe that our strategy for [making] that happen is also very accurate. We need to prioritize the things that are going to matter in our ability to help customers deliver that over the next two to three years - prioritize and accelerate those areas. With the speed we want to move at, we have to drive a greater degree of clarity and simplification in our internal communication, our external communication and how we're going to help our customers achieve that.

We have driven a level of operational rigor here that's fairly unprecedented. We've added $5.4 billion of revenue over the last four years and we've only added $400 million of expense. [We need] to look at our operational capabilities on a quarter-by-quarter because I think the business is moving so rapidly that annual processes are almost too slow. We have to look quarter-by-quarter, not at our strategy, but how we're managing the business effectively.

Also, [we need to pay attention to] our culture, and it's not just our internal culture. I [want] Cisco to be viewed as having the most innovative workforce experience in tech or in corporate America. We've got a lot of things we're thinking about as to how to do that. But I think where it really manifests itself is in our relationship with our partners because the way we treat our employees and the way we treat each other internally is how we end up treating our partners. We treat our partners the way we would like to be treated. We treat our customers the way we would like to be treated and it creates a high degree of value in our relationships. Ultimately, I want that to manifest itself in our customers - whether that's a country, a city, a company - believing that we are the best partner to help them move down this digitization path.

John talked a lot in our last few interviews about Cisco becoming the most important IT company and he had a definition of what "most important IT company" meant. Is that still the priority?

It is. The way I think about it is our customers believing that we are the partner that helps them build their digital strategy. I started my career 28 years ago in IT. I was an application developer at a major financial institution. I sat in a cube and I wrote code and I joke that IT back then, we were relegated to the basement. Throughout my career, we've seen IT move from the basement to the boardroom. As I think about where our customers are today, they are looking at how technology can enable their business, which is what we do today and lots of other players do. Many of our customers are now looking at how technology can differentiate their strategy going forward. Then we have some customers who are fundamentally looking at how technology redefines or defines the future strategy of their business. We believe we can help those companies who are putting technology at the core of their strategy. [They are] most likely to be the leaders in their industry or be the disrupters of the future. We did research that basically suggests that even five years from now, 40% of the market leaders in any industry won't be the market leaders anymore because of the pace of change.

When we talk to IT leaders, there is this clear desire to be at that transformative stage in leading the company as well as a very cold reality that very few of them feel that they're actually doing that. How will you help more of them be successful at that?

When I've talked to CIOs over the last year, most of them would tell [me that] they historically spent 75% of their time doing classic systems integration for their enterprise. Think about the desire by the line of business or the business functions to have technology play a more prominent role. The CIO and the IT organization are trying to drive more value and participate in that. They're trying to go from having 75% of their time in systems integration capability to spending 75% of their time strategically adding value to the business, helping the different business functions understand what technology can do. A lot of the communication in the industry has been that the sales organizations of IT companies need to get outside of IT. Industry groups talk about how the spending is moving outside of IT. More frequently now, we're engaging with the CIO and with the IT organization and then we're partnering to help the line of business take advantage of technology. We see IT organizations trying to move with much greater speed but still having that responsibility for compliance, security and the other things that matter to the organization.

There's a lot going on at Cisco, whether it's around Internet-of-everything or security, analytics, servers, SDN, etc. How do you get people to understand this larger message around digital transformation? How do you get them to understand how all the piece parts come together?

There are a couple of discussions. The first discussion is typically with the CEO or the head of a country and it's about understanding the real value of the technology and what it can do - whether that's GDP or job creation or inclusion of minorities or whatever their priorities are. Their priorities become our priorities and we talk about how technology can help achieve them. Then you move to the next level of 'why Cisco?' and what do we see happening with the next-generation technology architecture. For 50 years we've had data centers and we brought data to them to be processed. Over the next two to three years we're going to build these hyper-distributed architectures because the data is going to be pervasive everywhere. The value that's going to be derived by the organization is going to come from insights from that data. We're going to build this hyper-distributed architecture inclusive of public cloud, private cloud, that takes the processing power and the technology assets to the data because by the time you move data to a central location, process it, drive analytics on it, there's a high likelihood you've lost the value of the information anyway. We believe that this hyper-distributed technology architecture is going to be required to see the benefit of all the Internet-of-everything and digitization in the first place. This intelligent infrastructure, the intelligent network that we have, is the way to enable all of that. It will comprise automation, analytics - there's a lot of analytics the network can provide - and security as well. We believe it will be this hyper-distributed mode.

I want to specifically ask you about Internet-of-everything as part of this larger equation. Do you think IT understands that it is something that IT should be driving or leading?

I think they're beginning to. When we've had conversations with both the CIOs and the CEOs over the last six months, we see this emerging trend. We've seen convergence over the last 30 years, but the technology convergence is typically the easy part. It's the cultural and organizational changes that have to take place that are really the complex ones. Back in the days when we converged SNA traffic to IP you had the IBM teams and you had the network teams. Then we did it with voice and you had the TDM voice guys and the IP guys. What we see now is this real desire to pull the operational and the IT organizations together because they know that's the only way this is going to work. I've seen so many customers here, even in the last month, that have had a combination of IT and the business units here together to work on some of these ideation opportunities.

You've talked about two core things, speed and simplification. Where do you need to move faster?


Well, you own it as of today and some parts of it are working really well and I'm sure there are some parts you want to fix, things where you want to see Cisco move faster. Where does Cisco need to move faster?

I say everywhere somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there's also a bit of truth to it. There are a couple of reasons that I moved so quickly on announcing the first wave of the organization. Number one, we had made the decisions and I committed to our teams that we would drive a greater level of transparency inside the organization. I think we move faster when people have the information. Once the information is known, if we can share it we should. We knew what we were going to do and I wanted to send a signal to the teams that we are going to make the decisions more rapidly.

We need to move faster across every piece of our business. We've already begun the process. Look at what Pankaj [Patel, EVP and Chief Development Officer] has done in engineering. He's created a lot of small teams that can move faster and they are driving pure innovation projects as opposed to worrying about ongoing support, as an example, of different products. We've got our sales organization moving more rapidly towards being able to engage in a deep business discussion with our customers. We need to move faster in connecting the technology to the business value we talk about. In our services organization we need to move faster to deliver services around the business outcome that is desired. As an example, financial institutions want to deploy a remote expert solution to deliver a mortgage specialist from a central location out to each of their branches. The team is working on having services around that solution. We have to move faster across all those to be ready for that. Then I think that we need to just do what we've always done, which is listen deeply to our customers and then have our organization aligned so that information leads us to a decision, we make it and we move.

Are there specific markets or tech segments where you feel Cisco needs to move more quickly?

If I think about that architecture that I described to you earlier, some of the key areas we need to focus on are accelerating the automation of programmability of the entire network, unleashing the analytics that are of value that exist within the network today. That can then be combined with analytics from Accenture and we've got some great capabilities there. I think we need to accelerate the security architecture and our teams have done a tremendous job. The Sourcefire acquisition has been great. We believe the OpenDNS acquisition is going to be really key to us and you're going to see us focus on accelerating that.

Those areas I think are clear cut. The teams are actually doing the right things so this isn't me saying they're moving too slow. These are just areas that we have to continue to accelerate. As I think about our customer segments, we've got reasonably good architectural alignment with most of our service providers, as an example, and we're moving faster now on delivering virtualized managed services. It's a general response when we see market transitions occurring. You're going to see us assess those transitions, embrace those transitions and then accelerate them for our customers.

You also talked about simplification. What is the simplification that is required? How will the process of getting things done at Cisco change under you?

We need to think about it across everything we do. How we articulate our value proposition externally to our customers, how we talk about the value of the technology to the business. I think that as long as we are trying to move with speed, then the simpler the messaging, the greater our ability to move. It's a general desire to take complexity out because as we think about moving faster, complexity is our enemy. It's that simple.

Who do you view as the key competitors for Cisco? Your largest market share competitor in traditional networking is still pretty small. But who do you worry about?

I love a competitor that tries to build a better product because we do really well against those. John has talked over the last four or five years about this emerging threat from white-box. That's still a competitive threat but if you think about the objectives of the IT organization towards driving more business value inside the organization, they need technology that works together architecturally faster. The whole notion of disaggregating software and hardware just for the sake of 10-15% [savings] on the upfront CAPEX cost, honestly, most customers don't see the value in that. They're trying to move quickly to get technology in so that they can begin to achieve the business benefit from it. It's not about saving 10% on that old systems integration work that we used to do. That's one area that I think we're well positioned on.

As we look ahead, I think that the biggest competition will come from market transitions and, increasingly, many of the market transitions are business-model oriented. Our biggest risk is not paying attention to those and, where they make sense for our customers, embracing them quickly and moving forward with them.

When you think about the goal of helping customers with digital transformation, are you competing conceptually and from a breadth-of-solution perspective with IBM, EMC, HP Enterprise? Who is it? There's got to be somebody you point the team to and say "go kill these guys."

Realistically, we have a lot of technology competitors but when we think about what's required in helping our customers, one of the key things is going to be a very holistic ecosystem. We spent the last 15-20 years building up what I believe to be a huge competitive differentiation for Cisco, which is our ecosystem. As I think about our ability to execute with our customers, I actually think we're uniquely positioned right now. That doesn't mean we have every element of what they need, but it means that we have the network, which is the thing that's going to be pervasive. We have this distributed infrastructure capability, we have the ability to deliver analytics, provide automation and programmability at the application layer. I think we are uniquely positioned there.

I want to go back to a comment you made that you love when people try to compete at the product level. Is that to say you don't think that there's a significant enough shift in networking that a product-oriented networking company could make significant inroads against Cisco? I'll give Cisco credit here while you're mulling that because over the years, whether it's fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, wireless LAN, security, you have navigated those transitions. SDN would seem to be the next competitive landscape. Do you think that because of the 'holistic ecosystem' that it just would be too difficult for one of the competitors to really change the dynamic in networking?

You have two things going on. You have customers that buy into architectures because they're trying to get the business benefit now. If the ROI to digitize manufacturing floors or mining facilities or cities is defined well enough, they're not going to disaggregate the hardware to save 10%. They want to move with someone they trust who can help them implement that. On the flip side, if you have someone who is just looking at the upfront CAPEX cost on their technology, if that's their priority for some reason - and I would argue that if that is your priority, then you're probably in a pretty difficult space - then you're going to get squeezed by the whole white box play. You're going to get caught in the middle there and, classically, in these markets there's only room for one real low-cost player.

How do you envision the evolution of the network market? Obviously, your ambitions and your product set is bigger than that, but how do you see the network market evolving over the next say 2-5 years?

You're going to see this distributed capability all the way through the network out to the edge where the data exists. That's the biggest change that's going to occur. I also believe that the entire network needs to be programmable and automated. We can expose that so the applications that are ultimately delivering the value from the data fundamentally define the infrastructure they need to operate within. That plus the need to drive security. If you think about this massively distributed enterprise architecture and you think about a customer who's trying to build security there, the pervasive thing across that entire architecture is the network. It's been a tremendous transition over the last five years where customers are beginning to move from these point-product security solutions to thinking about the holistic architecture that they have to build for security. That's what the network is going to evolve to deal with, and it will be a combination of automation, software, hardware, programmability, security, analytics. Those are going to be the key values out of the network.

You have a robust software-defined network strategy. What do you say to people who claim SDN is really not very good news for a company like Cisco? One Dell executive said "SDN is kryptonite to Cisco." What do you say to that?

This is where you can get religious about the technology or you can step back and look at what a customer is trying to accomplish. We see a lot of buzz around SDN and I think John may have even used a quote in your last interview that there's not a customer on the planet that woke up and said "if I could only buy SDN today, my day would be complete'. What they're looking for is flexibility, agility, greater asset utilization, operational efficiency, the ability to move with more speed. We looked at SDN as it was being espoused and asked 'what are the benefits a customer really wants from that?' Then we said the best way to expose that is to give the application the ability to drive policy into the data center, and that's what we did. Now we're going to expand that across the entire enterprise so that the application can fundamentally define the infrastructure upon which it runs, whether it's quality of service, security profiles, provisioning compute for some period of time, provisioning incremental virtual machines, provisioning incremental storage. We think that the value of SDN is for it to be automated and we think that we're uniquely positioned to do that through a combination of our network capabilities and then bringing automation from the top.

That's one set of objectives with virtualization. The other is that I can essentially make my infrastructure fungible. I don't really care where it comes from. We saw that with server virtualization. Do you not see that coming with SDN over time?

If I use your server example, we entered the server market seven years ago? Six-and-a-half years ago? And if that were the case, that servers were completely fungible, then we wouldn't have entered with a premium solution and moved to number two share globally. There are unique capabilities that we still believe are brought to bear to bring value. One of the misconceptions of network virtualization is that people view it as they viewed server virtualization or storage virtualization. Virtualization of servers and storage was done because they were radically underutilized resources. You might have had 30% of a server being utilized or some smaller number. We're upgrading networks every year because they're over-utilized. So that's not the reason to do it. The initial benefits of SDN were around operational efficiency, automation, not having so much complexity and provisioning a data center for a certain application. We believe that through a combination of our technology and some of our software assets and then an automation layer across the enterprise, we can provide that capability. I think the word "virtualization" gets a little misconstrued here, when it's really automation and programmability and it's about speed and lower operating costs.

Fair enough. Given all of the potential benefits of SDN, why aren't customers excited about it at this point? Or why aren't a lot of customers excited about it?

It's like many new technologies. There are some very specific use cases that exist today that do lend themselves to our ACI [Application Centric Infrastructure] architecture and we see uptick on our customers that are looking at that application integration. I just think it's in the early stages.

Going back to the analogy that server virtualization was relatively inexpensive and a big win from a cost perspective, network virtualization is expensive and the payoff is farther out.

It gets back to the fact that we're solving a different problem than we were solving with server and storage virtualization. It's a little more complicated when you're integrating, trying to define what an application policy is, and then having that get implemented through the infrastructure. Customers are going to take their time. This is happening in the most strategic part of the IT infrastructure today, which is sitting in the data center. But look at our history, what we've done as a company - and this is why I think this is right in our wheelhouse, as is the Internet-of-everything digitization. Cisco has built this company on this notion of convergence and adding more value for our customers on top of it. Local-area network protocols all converging to IP, SNA, voice convergence, video convergence, wired-wireless - even enterprise and service provider converging. We drove converged infrastructure in the data center. ACI is the convergence of the application and the infrastructure. I joke that when I used to write code back in the '80s, you wrote applications under a set of hopeful assumptions about the environment in which they were going to operate. Today we can actually give them that convergence so they can define the environment in which they operate. If you look at the Internet-of-things, the Internet-of-everything digitization, it's the next wave of convergence. That's what we do. We converge those technologies and then we add value above that for our customers. That's why we think these are very natural for us.

You have been involved in a lot of Cisco's acquisitions and deals over the years. How is your strategy toward acquisitions different from John's? What should people expect?

When I come into this job, I step back and say: Okay, what's worked and what do we need to tweak? What does the future require us to do differently than we've done in the past? I've talked to our team about [combining] the best of today plus the best of what we need to do in the future. If you look at our acquisition strategy and our execution, that's one of those areas that you would say we've done reasonably well. Now you could always, as John would say, pick out a Flip [video company] and have fun with that. But the reality is our acquisition strategy has been a core part of our innovation plan over the years. Our acquisition strategy will remain relatively consistent. We don't think big ones work very well. We have our thoughts around cultural alignment, geographic proximity to facilities, all those things. But if I step back and look at our overall innovation strategy, I think it will continue to be made up of internal R&D, our M&A and, increasingly, even more interesting partnerships. As we move into these industrial systems you see us partnering with Rockwell and Schneider and Emerson and the like. Then the other two we're beginning to do are co-innovation and co-development with customers, as well as our venture fund or our investment portfolio. You'll see us be even more aggressive there with a much tighter alignment to our overall innovation strategy.

One of the things we're seeing is companies encouraging innovation in the customer or partner base through open platforms, whether that's IBM with Watson and the Bluemix platform or with Are there ways that Cisco can capitalize on that?

Look at what we've done already with our collaboration portfolio. We made the acquisition of Tropo, which is a key asset that helps us expose our collaboration portfolio through APIs. We have a very active ecosystem that is writing applications that call the collaboration processes in the application. We announced our IoT platform, IOx, that gives applications the ability to write to the infrastructure. As we build out our programmability capability with ACI and our enterprise networking capabilities, we'll expose those to application developers as well.

You've made a number of acquisitions in security and there's been a lot of internal development. What's missing? Where o you still need to go in security?

It's a very large market and depending on whose numbers you look at, we have probably between 7-10% [market share] and we're number one. There's a lot of opportunity to expand our footprint. The biggest issue today is that customers, on average, have 45-50 security vendors, so it's logical that you're only as safe as your weakest point. We believe customers are going to begin to look at this much more architecturally. We already see it happening. Think about what I just described with the architecture we can build. And, by the way, it will not be a closed Cisco architecture. We're not that naïve. We'll build it and we believe that we'll do it better than anybody else, but -- and we've shown this with ACI - we will open up and apply policy against a set of standards as well, which is what our customers want us to do.

I wanted to go back to the comment you made about the Flip business. When you look back at things that Cisco has done wrong, is there a common theme? Is there something that led you astray, whether it's the Cius tablet or Flip cameras or whatever you consider to be missteps in the past.

If you step back to the notion that, fundamentally, our company has been built off this notion of convergence and then value on top of that convergence, you could say some of those we either didn't converge quickly enough or they weren't closely enough aligned to our core capabilities. Where we identify opportunities that are tight adjacencies that truly derive value from becoming part of the IP infrastructure, that's our sweet spot. That's what ACI is, bringing the application in. That's what IoT -- IoE digitization are. That's why I believe those are tremendous opportunities for us in the future.

Let's talk a little bit more about the IoE opportunity. How do you accelerate that for Cisco? It's a very diverse market with lots and lots of players, lots of untouched applications that people haven't even thought of yet. It seems to me to be one of the biggest hurdles in that market. How do you accelerate this and really ensure that you capture the leader's share of this market?

There's a natural connectivity and convergence value that's associated with just connecting, going from 14 billion devices to 50 billion and then maybe a decade later to 500 billion. That's inherently good for us. But we've always been really successful when we've delivered more value by virtue of that connectivity. We have a tagline that I really like. Amazing things happen when you connect the unconnected. It's true. Once they're connected, we can apply, first of all, security. Secondly, analytics. We can apply IT assets out at the edge to get that data, derive more value for the enterprise faster through programmability and those sorts of things. It's a huge opportunity, not only for the connectivity to convergence, but also adding value on top of that.

So two big things out of that. One is security and the other is storage. But let's start with security. IoT, as we're all hearing a lot about, opens up a Pandora's Box of new security problems. How are you going to help companies deal with those?

The architecture we're going to build is going to help -- [through] the combination of OpenDNS assets, the network assets, some assets we may not even have today. We've got some unique capabilities, frankly, that came through NDS [Group] that we can pull together. We believe that it has to be solved architecturally and the network is the one place where that can occur. We continue to work on that and to deliver the  architecture for IoE security. We know that is a key enabler to accelerate that market that we have to deliver on.

How does that work in an environment where there are so many devices and products from other companies that you can't control? For example, two really prominent attacks recently came through medical equipment. Can the infrastructure prevent that sort of thing?

I think once they become part of the IP infrastructure, then we can. Yes. Absolutely.

The second one is storage. IoT is about lots of storage and managing storage better. Does this mean a bigger play for Cisco in storage? Would you acquire a storage company?

This is a question we get quite often. We have had tremendous relationships with EMC, with NetApp, with Hitachi, even with IBM and, to date, what our customers need from us we've been able to satisfy through those partnerships. As we look at this architecture that I described for the future, then we will clearly step back and look at what we need to deliver and what parts we need to own, what parts we need to partner for, and that will drive our decisions in the future.

As we're driving toward a hyper-converged data center, doesn't that speak to the need to own storage more directly?

Oh, no. We actually invented converged infrastructure with EMC, VCE and Cisco and we didn't have to own it, and it's been wildly successful.

Okay. So I'm going to shift gears. Two things. What are you going to do on day one?

The first thing we're going to do is have an all-hands meeting with everybody in the company with my new leadership team and we're going to allow them to ask any question they'd like to ask. That'll happen in the morning. Then we're going to have a celebration with our teams in the afternoon, where we're going to celebrate what John has accomplished here over the last 20 years, because he's done amazing things for the Valley, for technology and, I think, for society and the world in general. He deserves to be celebrated.

On a more personal note, what's one thing that people don't generally know about you but would help them understand you better?

I have a mathematical sciences degree with a concentration in computer science. At my core, I'm a geek. I don't know if you could tell, but I do get excited about the technology even though I'm not as deep in it as I used to be. And, to that end, around here, I'm known for the numbers. I always know the numbers and anybody that engages with me will know that they better know the numbers as well. But I think the thing that I've learned about myself recently is that all your experience and your ability to process data and consume all those numbers actually leads you to have an incredible instinct. My instinct is built off my experience, as well as my ability to process the data. But I think that the whole data and analysis piece is something that I really believe in and is core of what makes me who I am.

What drives you on a personal level? I do have a LinkedIn quote from you, "I absolutely love change. When things are dynamic and moving fast, I'm most energized."

It's the truth. I have four kids and a great family and we have a great time, and I love having watched my kids grow. They're all different and they all look at things differently, and I'm energized by that. But I love leading teams. I love motivating and inspiring people. Every two months we do this simple thing called a "birthday chat." Anybody who's had a birthday in those two months, we do an hour of just open Q&A in the company. What is it that you want to ask? John and I have done the last two together and we did his last one with me this morning, and we had the greatest time. We laughed, everybody had a good time. The big thing for me is that it's critically important, given the pressure, the pace, the complexity, that we all have fun. That is the core of who I am. I want my entire team around me to be committed to working really hard, but having a great time at it.

John, separate from his skill as CEO, has a big personality.

He does.

How do you -- I don't want to say fill those shoes, because that's not the right analogy. But how will Cisco be a different company with your personality?

You might want to ask people around here how big my personality is. John's built an amazing culture - one of people who care deeply about what they do, they care deeply about the business, but they also care about giving back to their community, society and the world. We'll maintain it. The difference between John and I is that I probably get into the details a little more today, but I've been told that three years from now I probably won't be able to do that. Fundamentally the company will maintain all of our cultural values, all the things that make us great. We'll have a lot of fun. And look, John's going to be executive chairman, so he's going to be sticking around for a few years, so his stamp will still be on it. He'll still be around with his big personality and making us all laugh and having a great time.

Do you drink diet Coke?

Not nearly as much as John does.

Is there anything about the transition or what's ahead that I didn't ask about that you think our readers would need to know about?

This issue of data being everywhere and the need to take dynamic, secure infrastructure out to the data is going to be one of the most fundamental shifts we've seen in a while. We're uniquely positioned because the network enables that through programmability, automation, security and all those things. If you look at that convergence of the applications into the infrastructure and the visibility that they now have, and then the convergence of this next wave of protocols and technologies that are right in the wheelhouse of what we've done, I think our future is incredibly bright.

MORE:Meet the Real Chuck Robbins

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