Some say anything that will go wrong
will. Cisco's John Chambers says anything wrong eventually
will go right. As a man who's gone from hero to heel and back
in just a few short years, he should know.
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
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
As Cisco's fortunes sank, so did Chambers' image. Some seemed to
delight in rebuking him for being one of the Internet's leading
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.