John Chambers

John Chambers
John Chambers
  • From:

    Cisco Systems, Inc. | San Jose, California

  • Year:

    2012

  • Subject:

    Leadership

  • Award:

    Bower Award for Business Leadership

  • Citation:

    For shaping Cisco Systems, Inc. into one of the world's most widely respected and successful technology companies, providing business and consumer technologies that allow millions of people to connect to each other through computer networking and the Internet, and for his leadership by example in corporate responsibility and personal philanthropy.

It's a safe bet that anyone who uses the internet owes a debt of thanks to John T. Chambers, because more than likely, the routing or switching devices they're using to connect to the net were designed and built by Cisco Systems, Inc. As Cisco's chairman and CEO, Chambers presides over the world's premier data networking company—the culmination of a long and illustrious journey from his first job as a humble salesman for IBM.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Chambers was raised in Charleston, West Virginia. Although he struggled early on with dyslexia, his parents, his father a doctor and his mother a psychologist, made sure that he received the extra help he needed, and Chambers overcame his disability and went on to earn business and law degrees from West Virginia University. Deciding to focus his energies in business rather than law, he followed up with an MBA from Indiana University, then accepted an offer to join IBM in 1976.

Although he hadn't ever really thought of himself as a salesman by nature, Chambers soon discovered that he had a natural gift for sales. He excelled in the IBM sales department even as the company was weathering the difficult transition in the marketplace from large business systems to personal computers. After six years at IBM, Chambers realized that he had risen about as high in the company as possible for a non-engineer such as himself, and moved on to explore new opportunities at Wang Laboratories. Rather unexpectedly for an easygoing West Virginian, Chambers proved a great success as head of Wang's Asian sales team, and formed a close friendship with An Wang, the company's Chinese-American founder. The company fell on hard times after Wang's death in 1990, and though he had risen to the position of executive vice president by then, Chambers decided it was time to look elsewhere.

"Elsewhere" turned out to be Cisco, the company that Chambers would soon revolutionize. He was hired as senior vice president for worldwide sales and operations in late 1990. While his traditional button-down style was something of an anomaly in the jeans and T-shirt geek culture of Silicon Valley, Chambers's business acumen quickly overcame any qualms that he might not fit in. He soon put together a series of strategic acquisitions that would stimulate and solidify Cisco's growth into the 21st century. In less than ten years, Cisco closed more than 71 acquisitions, expanding its scope into the design, manufacturing, and sales of products and services encompassing all areas of data networking. Chambers rose to become Cisco's president and CEO in 1995, and was named Chairman of the Board in 2006. Despite the occasional downturns and rough patches experienced by any major corporation, Cisco has prospered and grown under Chambers's leadership to become the universally-recognized leader in its field, joining giants such as Apple and Microsoft in the top echelon of technologically innovative and profitable companies.

Chambers continues to lead Cisco into new areas, both in the marketplace and in technology, as Cisco expands into new worldwide markets including network security and video conferencing. He recently predicted that video would become the dominant means of communication in all areas of information technology, with "one million TV stations in the U.S." as video technology becomes ever more accessible to the individual consumer. With fast and efficient data transfer the key to internet video, Cisco promises to be at the forefront of this burgeoning frontier.

Aside from his masterful leadership of Cisco, however, Chambers is also noted for a long record of philanthropic and public work. Both through his Chambers Family Foundation and other individually-organized initiatives, Chambers has made substantial contributions to victims of the 2008 Chinese earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and other natural disasters. His Foundation has made endowments and outright gifts to various universities to further medical and scientific research and to further educational efforts. Chambers's charitable work and his service to two U.S. Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have been twice honored by the top corporate social responsibility award (ACE) of the U.S. State Department.

John T. Chambers has come a long way for a salesman. Yet throughout his entire career, he has remained focused on the core values he learned in that job: listening to the needs of the customer and doing whatever it takes to meet them. It's that simple philosophy that has guided Chambers as he has built Cisco into one of the world's leading technological business success stories.

Information as of April 2012