This Is What Makes Cisco CEO John Chambers Cry (And It's Not What You Think)


John Chambers

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Cisco CEO John Chambers

Lately, Cisco CEO John Chambers has been predicting that "brutal" times are coming for the IT industry.


He thinks of the top five players, only two or three will be around in a "meaningful" way in as little as five years, Cisco included.

"If we don't disrupt ourselves, if we don't have the courage to change, if we don't change before the market forces us to, we'll get left behind," he told attendees at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen earlier this month.

You think Cisco would need a hard, driven, competitive person at its helm to keep the company lean and mean while squeezing the competition.

But that's not at all how Chambers sees himself.


In an interview with Business Insider, he explained, "I'm not a tough person. I cry at movies. (I'm not particularly proud of that, but I do)," he told us.

He also takes an almost fatherly interest in the company's 75,000-some employees.

"I follow every illness of every employee, their spouse, children that's life threatening. This last week there was a number of them," he says. "It's about getting a person who has breast cancer into the right doctors at Duke, or getting a secondary opinion, or helping someone who has lost a spouse unexpectedly, talking to the person see what we can do."

He has mixed feelings about this approach. On the one hand, he hints that Cisco might carry more fat on its payroll than it should, but that he "doesn't have the heart" to implement some kind of brutal, competitive HR practice, like a stack ranking performance review, where employees are rated against each other and the bottom percent are let go.

"A well-run organizations turns over 10% of their organizations, including senior leadership. I don't have the heart to do that. But we need to run at 3-5% in voluntary attrition. (We need to do that a little better, we run at 3%.)," he tells us.


Even though he's not as tough on this as he thinks he should be, he's proud of the company's culture.

"You can say we're too soft, but we are family and it's actually very powerful," he says.