Thursday, December 20, 2007

Goodbye Giancarlo to Silver Lake

"Charles Giancarlo, Cisco Systems Inc.'s chief development officer and heir-apparent to Chairman and CEO John Chambers, resigned Thursday to join Silicon Valley investment firm Silver Lake. "

"In a conference call, Chambers called Giancarlo's departure a rare loss "where it wasn't the right time to lose him."

Giancarlo joined the network equipment maker 14 years ago when it bought Ethernet switch maker Kalpana. He started Cisco's business development organization and spearheaded its aggressive acquisition strategy, even in the lean years following the dot-com crash of 2000.

During the conference call Thursday afternoon, Chambers and Giancarlo were affable and nostalgic about their long working relationship — but they never minced words: Chambers said he has little intention of stepping down from Cisco in the near future, and Giancarlo, who has ambitions to be at the helm of a company, discussed the calculations he made about his future after turning 50 this year.

"I went home one day and talked to my wife and said, 'Honey, I now know what you mean by a biological clock,'" Giancarlo said. "I feel young, but you do the math: I don't know what my decision process will be in 5 years, but I know what it is today."

Shares of Cisco — the second most richly valued company in Silicon Valley after Google Inc. — closed Thursday at $28.28. After the announcement of Giancarlo's resignation, they gained 4 cents in extended trading.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Silver Lake Partners is a private-equity firm that invests in technology companies. Giancarlo, whose last day at Cisco is Dec. 31, will be managing director, working at the most senior levels in its portfolio companies, he said.

Chambers emphasized Thursday that he would remain CEO for at least three years, more likely five. He is replacing Giancarlo with a "council" of executives — part of the company's broader switch from a "command and control" organization to a network of task forces and other teams.

Chambers said he had no intention of naming another individual to be chief development officer, and he might appoint multi-person councils to lead other divisions if it works well in the development department.

"I believe this type of structure will be the future, given the complexities and ... market adjacencies we're going to move into," Chambers said. "The future of our company will be about how groups work together architecturally."

Both men were clearly sad about parting ways. Cisco — often ranked among the top companies to work for nationwide — is known for its high morale and low turnover, at least by Silicon Valley standards.

High-profile departures are rare — and they're even more rarely of the awkward "resigning to pursue other opportunities" variety common in corporate America. Many executives at Cisco came from startups and want to return to smaller organizations.

In February, Cisco lost Mike Volpi, senior vice president and general manager in charge of the routing and service provider technology group. The entrepreneurial Volpi, 41, said his decision to leave was influenced by a desire to build a startup "where I have my signature, my DNA, within it."

"Buddy, you're my friend, I love ya, and you're one of the very few who got away," Chambers said to Giancarlo. "You can still reconsider."

Giancarlo chuckled and then turned serious.

"We'll see what life brings," Giancarlo said.

His new job begins Jan. 2. "

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