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Ex-Cisco CEO reflects, looks ahead on 25 years of Networkers

Jim Duffy | May 20, 2014
Chairman Emeritus John Morgridge knew company would be big, says evolution is key

John Morgridge was Cisco's first CEO. He took the company public and presided over its growth until John Chambers took over as CEO in 1995. On the 25th anniversary of the Networker's user conference this week, Morgridge, 80, reflects on the past and looks ahead to the future as Cisco's Chairman Emeritus.

Did you ever imagine Cisco would become what it is today?
I was convinced it was going to be big. The reason I was convinced was a little different then than it is today. Today there are a lot of new devices that are going to be part of it. Back then there were just a huge number of proprietary, small, application oriented networks. And I was convinced that those would ultimately become a web on a global basis. This was a job I actually searched out. This is not a job I just kind of fell into. I was convinced someone was going to do this build this huge global network and connect all these disparate protocols into a single unified structure.

As you look back, what's been the most intriguing reflection on 25 years of Networkers?
The most interesting thing from a business standpoint is the long list of competitors we've had. If you look back, they come kind of in series. And there are probably at least five series that have occurred, and many of those are the dear departed: everything from DEC to Wellfleet. But it's also a case that the company has been able to maintain its focus and its business model of developing and delivering value to the customer that I think has really sustained it. And I think that's a wonderful business story over a 25-year period. Many companies don't exist after 25 years. It's a rarity. Or if they do exist they're like IBM, with a totally changing personality.

What were the company's most precarious moments? What made you and John Chambers and the board most question the company's strategy, direction and potential for growth?
Certainly, there were various periods where different protocols took on relevance. Fortunately for Cisco, they didn't survive. ATM was one. It actually came up at one of the networking conferences as I recall. And our stock tailed off as a result of it because we did not have a position in that, and there was a lot of push to acquire a company. We never did, and it subsequently fell into disuse. Although I guess there is still some around.

There are some people, no matter what they do it turns out badly. They have a problem either, what they do is wrong or things that happen were wrong. I was president of a company like that, it was called Grid Computer. Everyday I'd come home and my wife would ask, Well, what happened today?' Invariably, something happened, almost every week. Cisco is the reverse of that. Most things we did either were correct or turned out to be correct. As a result, it never had a precipitous stumble. There's never been what I would call a catastrophic kind of occurrence. It was a great company to be president of, it probably still is.  


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