Channel partner events, Content

Cisco CEO’s Late Arrival: A Blessing In Disguise


To the best of ChannelE2E's knowledge, Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins has yet to surface at the networking company's partner summit this week in Las Vegas. It's a safe bet Robbins is preparing for Cisco's November 14 earnings call before he delivers a partner summit keynote on November 15.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins
Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Ironically, Robbins' belated arrival here at Cisco Partner Summit 2018 is a blessing in disguise -- an opportunity to ensure new leaders have the opportunity to craft and deliver new messages that will spur partners to action.

During a typical partner summit, Cisco's CEO often opens the show with a big-picture vision statement. A few hours later in the day, the CEO will sit down with Cisco's channel chief to host a one-hour open Q&A with reporters, journalists and bloggers from around the world. That formula has mostly held true for more than a decade, though former CEO John Chambers occasionally delivered his statements later in the event.

Poke around this year's Cisco Partner Summit, and old formulas no longer hold true. Perhaps that's fitting. Cisco and its partner ecosystem are in transition. The company and many product-centric partners are striving to shift toward software subscriptions, managed services and recurring revenues. Robbins will surely provide a progress report on those efforts during the November 14 earnings call.

Cisco Partner Summit: New Faces, Voices Emerge

Meanwhile, several new or recently promoted executives have effectively stepped into the spotlight here at Cisco Partner Summit. The key faces include:

Cisco Senior VP Oliver Tuszik

Amy Chang
Gerri Elliott
  • Gerri Elliott, executive VP, chief sales and marketing officer;
  • Amy Chang, senior VP, collaboration technology group; and
  • Oliver Tuszik, SVP, global partner organization.

Elliott opened the conference with a high-energy pep talk -- declaring that she joined Cisco in April 2018 precisely because of the company's partner ecosystem. She tactfully thanked recently retired and former Channel Chief Wendy Bahr for her extensive contributions to the company. Elliott also tactfully mentioned that Bahr wasn't at the conference -- a polite way of turning the page, shifting the spotlight, and introducing newly minted global channel chief  Oliver Tuszik to the crowd.

For Cisco, it was all business -- but not business as usual.

So, Let's Get Down to Business

At this point, Cisco was only 30 minutes into the conference, and it was clear: The company valued its past, but new leadership wanted partners to focus on the here and now -- the challenges and opportunities that simply must be addressed to ensure Cisco and 2,000 partners in the room remain relevant.

By now, everyone in the room has heard the giant sucking sound -- involving data and dollars increasingly flowing toward Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and perhaps even Google Cloud Platform.

Sure, Cisco has made progress in its transformation toward recurring revenue. But at times, Cisco's own cloud strategy has been a bit arrogant -- and occasionally limited by siloed solutions. Even Cisco's biggest advocates will tell you that WebEx looks and behaves like it's stuck in the client-server age from two decades ago.

Don't take my word for it. Those words came directly from Cisco's Chang to the audience during her time on center stage today.

A Leader In Listen Mode

Later in the day, Tuszik sat down for a Q&A with worldwide media. Only, he didn't sit. Instead, he worked the room -- walking around, looking reporters in their eyes, and answering their questions without dodging some of the tough issues in the room. He even tossed a few questions back toward the media, eager to understand perceptions in and around the room.

Tuszik worked without an executive safety net around him. No lieutenants. No Cisco product gurus. It was just him, the media and a few PR handlers here in that Las Vegas conference hall. Chuck Robbins, I suspect, was 500 miles away in San Jose -- prepping for the earnings call on Wednesday.

In response to media questions, Tuszik says he has no plans to rip apart or re-invent Cisco's partner program. He believes it's the best in the world. But he provided a few reality checks. Both Cisco and partners must evolve for new revenue models. And when pushed, Tuszik essentially conceded that Cisco needs to work faster and harder to rebuild its SMB-oriented partner efforts.

Cisco’s Marc Inderhees
Google Cloud’s Nirav Sheth

Those SMB initiatives are well-underway -- including an SMB recurring revenue session designed for established and aspiring MSPs here at the conference. In a healthy side-conversation with ChannelE2E, Tuszik confirmed that the renewed SMB effort will involve some classic partners -- namely, distributors -- though the sales play books will need to change for modern times.

Tuszik has a strong team around him. And the talent goes more than one-level deep. Cisco VP Nirav Sheth has largely led the SMB-centric partner push over the past year -- and the anecdotal progress looks promising. Dig deeper into the organization, and you'll spot Marc Inderhees, a senior sales business development manager, building SMB bridges between Cisco and MSPs.

The signs of progress are everywhere. The ultimate reality check -- Cisco's quarterly earnings call -- will arrive sometime Wednesday afternoon. And Robbins will surface here for his conference keynote on Thursday morning.

No doubt, the CEO keynote frequently hits numerous high notes for Cisco and partner attendees.

But take your time getting here, Chuck. So far, your new lieutenants seem to have everything under control here at Cisco Partner Summit 2018.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.