Cisco's incoming CEO Robbins is viewed as a natural salesman, but some question his technical chops

Incoming Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins is similar in many respects to the outgoing chief, John Chambers. Both are natural salesmen who understand Cisco's customers and resellers. While Robbins is in sync with Cisco's culture (he has been with the company since 1997), analysts and investors are questioning whether he has the technical acumen to help Cisco transition in a world of software-defined networking.

Robbins

Robbins' personality and style, according to Chambers and others who know Cisco well, was a key factor in the board's decision to select him over other internal and external candidates, the Wall Street Journal reported. "I believe hugely in our culture at Cisco," Robbins told the Journal. "I believe it is a significant differentiator." Robbins will officially take the helm on July 26.

Robbins, 49, holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics with a concentration in computer science from the University of North Carolina. He started his career at the networking giant as an account manager and became a leader in the company's sales operations. As the Journal notes, Robbins also worked closely with resellers that account for more than 80 percent of Cisco's sales. Cisco expects to post around $49 billion in sales this fiscal year.

"That is the engine that runs Cisco," Zeus Kerravala, founder of market-research firm ZK Research, told the Journal. "He's been the quarterback."

Resellers and analyst seem to agree that Robbins has a finely tuned awareness of Cisco's partner relationships, especially with its resellers. The question is whether Robbins can help Cisco transform in a world where carriers are cutting back on network spending,  moving toward SDN and away from proprietary hardware systems.

 "He's going to run the company well as a caretaker, he's got good business acumen," Forrester Research analyst Glenn O'Donnell told Reuters. "The question is whether he has vision. I don't think anybody yet knows the answer."

Robbins has endorsed the strategy laid out by Chambers but said a key focus will be identifying areas where Cisco can move faster, according to the WSJ. The question is whether he, and Cisco, can move fast enough.

"While we like Chuck Robbins individually, we believe investors would benefit more from technology leadership at the company given the disruptive changes we believe are coming to networking," JP Morgan Rod Hall told Reuters.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this separate WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article

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