You could say John Chambers knows how to steer through turbulence. Since he took over as CEO of Cisco Systems, a manufacturer of routers and switches that allow computer networks - including the Internet - to function, he's presided over spectacular boom and big bust.
It started in 1995, just as companies started hanging their fortunes online. Because its products literally are the guts of the
Internet, Cisco's stock price soared and company sales took an upward trajectory that seemed endless. Not surprisingly, Chambers was showered with laurels and hailed as a visionary. Some wondered in print whether he was perhaps the best CEO alive. An inveterate optimist, Chambers himself became a mouthpiece for the ebullient times: The Internet, he proclaimed, would change the way we live, work, and play.
Of course, we all know the next chapter. Wildly profitable off Internet growth, Cisco couldn't flourish when the expansion stopped, even reversed. Companies slashed their technology spending; Cisco floundered. Not only did its revenue and stock price plummet, Cisco sacked 18 percent of its workforce, around 8,500 jobs.
As Cisco's fortunes sank, so did Chambers' image. Some seemed to delight in rebuking him for being one of the Internet's leading cheerleaders.
But unlike many companies knocked down by the tech slump, Cisco has already rebounded. It's even more profitable than before the slump. Always the buoyant optimist, Chambers used Cisco's fall as a chance to reinvent its operations, its culture, and even many of its products. Now, Chambers is as positive about the company's prospects - and about the impact of the Internet - as he ever was.