Ever want to pick the brain of an accomplished CEO? In its new webinar series, Kelley Direct does just that for the program’s online MBA and MS alumni.
Conversations with the C-Suite features Kelley School of Business alumni with remarkable executive experience. They share their insights on leadership and issues facing businesses, and offer advice for future executives. Kelley Direct alumni have the opportunity to submit questions and watch the live interview.
The series kicked off with John Chambers, MBA’76, chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems and CEO of JC2 Ventures. During his 20 years of leadership at Cisco, Chambers shaped how we use technology. He grew the company from 4,000 employees and $1.2 billion in revenue in 1995 to 70,000 employees and more than $47 billion in revenue in 2015.
Here are some of the lessons Chambers shared in his Conversations with the C-Suite interview with Idie Kesner, dean of the Kelley School of Business and Frank P. Popoff Chair of Strategic Management:
“If you don’t disrupt yourself, you’re going to get disrupted.
“I’ve watched what happens when you don’t disrupt. [The pandemic] is going to create a period of tremendous disruption. Probably 40% of the companies that people are working for today will disappear within a decade and almost all job creation will come out of start-ups. I’ve learned the hard way—if you don’t disrupt yourself, you’re going to get disrupted. If you don’t think out-of-box, if you don’t catch market inflection points, if you don’t realize that every business is going to be completely transformed and every business will become a digital business, then you’re going to get left behind.”
“The most difficult companies to change are those that have been successful.
“One of the quickest ways to fail is to keep doing the right thing for too long. Whether you’re a tech company or in another industry, the most difficult companies to change are those that have been successful. And you almost get that entitlement mentality. When you paint the picture of change, whether it’s for your small group that reports to you or for a large company, you want to do a combination of outlining a vision of why you have to change and showing the vision for how you’re going to change. You’ve got to hit them with the tough reality. If you don’t change, you don’t survive.”
“Don’t be afraid to admit when you make a mistake.
“Your team doesn’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, if you don’t know where your weaknesses are and if you’re not self-aware, you can get into trouble very quickly. If you’re transparent with your team, with the financial markets, with others, that’s how you build and develop trust. And it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know, let me find out.’”
“One of the most important things you can do as a leader is run your meetings effectively and run your own time effectively.
“When I go into a meeting, I’m always the best prepared, whether it’s with the president of the country or an interview. I have it memorized. And I used to think that was bureaucracy—it slows you down, you don’t need to do that, we can just wing it. And boy, was I wrong. And when you’re well prepared, you can move with speed in a way that no one else can.”
“Acquire to move into new areas.
“Acquisitions are hard. They have a high failure rate. And what you do, in my opinion, especially in technology acquisitions—remember all companies will be technology companies. You want to acquire to move into new areas. If I bought a competitor that overlaps with one of my existing products, the only way I would acquire them is if I was going to kill my own product. You can’t have competing products within your organization. Some companies do that and they do it remarkably well. I play offense, so I acquire with the idea of growth, knowing they’re going to be hard. And if you acquire a competitor, you ought to exit your own products and do that in a way that doesn’t diffuse your customers, your employees, or the market.”
“If you have the best talent and you have the best vision, you’re unbeatable.
“The ability to attract and recruit talent is very key. I recruit all the time. Often when I do a session with other leaders or start-ups, I’m thinking, ‘Is this the type of person that I want to have as a partner?’ It’s common for me to either recruit a person over five years before I get them or to flag somebody I think might be very interesting for the future. Then you have to hold on to the talent. You’ve got to work at it constantly. I build the talent that stays with me. There are very few people who have ever worked for me that wouldn’t work for me again. I’m far from the perfect leader, but I do love to build great teams. I love to have fun together.”
To discover more about Chambers’ career and perspectives on business, read his book, Connecting the Dots: Lessons for Leadership in a Startup World.
To learn more about Kelley Direct alumni opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.