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John Chambers on Risk and Opportunity in the Modern Age

John Chambers is the legendary former CEO of Cisco, a company he helped grow from $70 million in revenue per year when he joined in 1991 to $1.2 billion a year the year he became CEO to over $48 billion a year by the time he retired in 2015. As a leader John was always known for far more than just revenue growth, he was skilled at building an organization that treated people well, including employees, customers and the community.

In this OODAcast we discuss John’s book, Connecting The Dots, which shares his insights into leadership including leadership of organizations that need to disrupt themselves. The lessons of this book can help those at any stage of a career improve in their ability to lead innovative companies. John speaks to many learning points in his career including early lessons on how governments and companies ignore transitions at their own peril. He draws lessons from lost opportunities that include things West Virginia could have done differently, as well as transitions missed by IBM and Wang.

We asked John to elaborate on his ability to spot market transitions and assess how they should impact business strategy and operations. This is a skill we are always seeking to improve at OODA and found his recommendations very consistent with our methods of keeping our ear to the ground and seeking insights from multiple sources, then dealing with reality as it is, not as you hope it will be.

We also ask John for his assessment into the changing economic situation because of the pandemic. We discuss how his projections at the beginning of the pandemic played out. We then get his assessment on what is in store for the coming months, resulting in advice which should be heard by any CEO seeking to serve. He tells us agility, a word he used to dislike because it sounded like marketing, now needs to be the mantra of every CEO.

“Agility is the watchword for leaders today”

John is currently the CEO of JC2 Ventures, a venture capital firm he founded to invest in and mentor startups he believes are positioned to become core drivers of economic growth and job creation in the digital age. We discuss his approach on finding these firms and mentoring them. The CEO of a key firm in his portfolio, Guarav Banga of Balbix, was interviewed for the OODAcast last year).

John concludes with advice for any leader seeking to succeed:

“You deal with the world the way it is, not the way you wish it was.”

He also reminds us all that

“The winners are those that do not do the right thing for too long. The winners are those that are willing to disrupt themselves.”

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Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes OODALoop.com. Bob is the co-host of the popular podcast The OODAcast. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency.