Cisco boss John Chambers has warned companies that they must face "near-death" experiences in order to thrive in the fast-changing IT industry, as he prepares to bow out from the top job.
In a blog post on LinkedIn published at the start of his final week as Cisco's chief executive, Chambers reflected on his 20-year stint at the top and said change is the only constant.
He said a conversation with Jack Welch, former General Electric boss, stayed with him throughout his time at the top.
"He candidly told me that at the time I had a good company, but not a great one," Chambers (pictured) said. "I asked him what it would take to make Cisco a great company. He said: 'you need to go through a near-death experience.' Having faced many challenges as CEO, I now know that he was exactly right.
"Over the years, I realised that the bigger the disruption – or potential 'death' scenario – the bigger the opportunity. Radical changes and moments of disruption can be scary and often uncomfortable. But when you get out of your comfort zone and tackle new opportunities and identify the market gaps that you can fill, you often succeed."
As of this Sunday, Cisco sales chief Chuck Robbins takes over from Chambers as chief executive. Chambers will become executive chairman of the company at the same time and described Robbins as "the best person for the job".
He went on to say that timing is everything in business.
"For start-ups, the key to success is long-term, exponential thinking, which also requires the ability to move quickly," he said. "But if you try to move too fast without a process that can scale, it can be just as bad as not moving at all. At Cisco, we're always thinking about where we want to be five to 10 years out, how we can differentiate ourselves two to four years out, and how we're going to execute over the next year.
"But this type of discipline needs to be combined with a willingness to innovate. You must also be open to trying new things or else you risk missing windows of opportunity. The ability to move fast, with process has gotten us through challenging times, and has helped us emerge stronger as a company."
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