Arik Hesseldahl

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Cisco CEO Chambers Talks Retirement Plans; Succession Race Officially Begins

Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers has been on the job since 1995, longer that most CEOs in the tech industry. Now 63, he’s starting to see a time when he might be ready to step down from day-to-day management of the networking giant with which his name is nearly synonymous.

Chambers is in New York today for the Clinton Global Initiative and stopped by the headquarters of Bloomberg News on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He told reporters there that he sees a scenario where he would step aside as CEO sometime between 2014 and 2016, and, assuming directors approve, becoming chairman.

The statement effectively serves as the starting gun in the race to succeed him. Current COO Gary Moore is the go-to guy in the event that Chambers suddenly dies or is unable to carry out his duties. But he, like Chambers, is 63 and likely to retire about the same time. Update: A Cisco spokesman just called to say that Moore is at or near the top of the list of 10 possible successors that Chambers mentioned in his remarks to Bloomberg, despite the fact that they’re both the same age.

Chambers named three execs on a list of as many as 10 possible successors: Robert Lloyd, the 56-year-old executive vice president of worldwide operations; Chuck Robbins, senior vice president of the Americas; and Edzard Overbeek, senior vice president of global services.

Ambitious Cisco execs have tended not to hang around, judging Chambers to be something of an immovable object. In June, Ned Hooper, a 45-year-old, 14-year Cisco veteran was bounced out of a job as chief strategy officer in a corporate shakeup in favor of 51-year-old Padmasree Warrior, who is also chief technology officer.

Chambers said he thought his successor would come from within Cisco, though it’s hard not to imagine external candidates being considered. Hewlett-Packard’s Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and head of its Enterprise business, occasionally gets mentioned as a contender for the job, though at 47 he could just as easily be a contender down the road to run HP.

Another name that’s worth mentioning is Pat Gelsinger, the current head of VMWare. Long on the short list to succeed Paul Otellini at Intel, he jumped instead to EMC as its COO and heir apparent to Joe Tucci. That is, until Tucci named Gelsinger to take over at VMWare, replacing Paul Maritz, who is now chief strategy officer at EMC. In the same shakeup, David Goulden was named COO and is now apparently next in line at EMC, though Tucci, 65, keeps pushing back his retirement. (EMC basically controls VMWare.)

So while Chambers has generally avoided talk about succession, he’s now officially started the race to see who can take over Cisco. The leaders should start to become clear by this time next year.


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