Cisco's Nuti Moves to Symbol

Top Cisco service provider exec Bill Nuti takes an East Coast job with Symbol Technologies. What's it mean?

July 17, 2002

5 Min Read
Cisco's Nuti Moves to Symbol

There's been lots of talk since Symbol Technologies Inc. announced yesterday that Bill Nuti, Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) senior vice president of worldwide service provider operations, will become its president and chief operating officer (see Symbol Under New Management).

One of the theories as to why Nuti would jump ship was that any Cisco executive hoping to succeed Cisco CEO John Chambers is in for a wait of several long years. Another theory: Nuti, a New Yorker, would rather work on the East Coast, and Symbol is based in Holtsville, N.Y.

Nuti took an opportunity to weigh in himself during a Thursday morning interview with Light Reading.

"I see Symbol as a company with not only a proven track record, but one with great potential for growth," he says. "I compare Symbol with Cisco in the early days -- very aggressive, very hungry, and very innovative."

Nuti also alluded to the fact that as a native Long Islander, he has East Coast roots. "I love the community. I love the East Coast. And I'm looking forward to working with Rich [Bravman, Symbol's CEO] and Jerry [Swartz, Symbol's founder] to create a great company."

Nuti hasn't officially left Cisco yet. He's working there until the end of the week and begins his new job on August 1. It's an interesting move, because Nuti was at Cisco for a decade and was considered by some to be one of Cisco's top executives.

Nuti held a variety of positions in the company as Cisco chased the service provider market. He was president of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Operations until February 2001. During the Asian economic crisis of the mid to late 90s, Nuti managed Cisco's business in Singapore and spent a year working in Beijing.

Nuti then moved on to Europe where he oversaw Cisco's investment of more than $5 billion in strategic alliances, joint ventures, and acquisitions throughout EMEA.

When he returned to the U.S., he was charged with helping rebuild Cisco's service provider strategy and he became general manager for Cisco's U.S. business. "The last year and a half may have been some of the best experience I've gotten in terms of managing during a downturn," Nuti says.

"I can't say the last year and a half to two years were a lot of fun as a senior executive in the business world, particularly in networking and even more so in telecommunications, but the skill set you build in that time frame -- the mental toughness and the skin-thickness -- grows quite substantially."

Though he lived in New York, Nuti was thought by some to be heir-apparent to San Jose-based Chambers. "He probably had the best chance of replacing Chambers in a few years," says one former Cisco executive, who requested anonymity.

Nuti's departure once again raises questions about whether there are executives being groomed to follow Chambers, and if so, whether anybody has the patience to stick around for his job if and when he relinquishes it.

Don Listwin, now CEO of Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV), was the last Cisco executive thought to be Chambers' eventual successor. Listwin left Cisco in 2000, saying that one of his career goals was to be a CEO and it wasn't going to happen fast enough for him at Cisco.

Several top Cisco service provider executives have left in the past couple of years, including Carl Russo, Kevin Kennedy, and Kevin DeNuccio. Light Reading reported earlier this year that Cisco has hired former Fujitsu executive Ron Martin to absorb some of those duties, but the company hasn't announced Martin's hiring.

Nuti says he was "happy to play for it all" and "honored" to be in that heir-apparent role. "I really didn't focus on that," he quickly adds. "I just went out everyday and did my job."

When asked to rate Cisco's service provider business now, as he's leaving it, Nuti gives it high marks. "Their resolve and sustainability in the service provider market has been incredible. It's all about execution for them now and continuing to keep the momentum going."

He notes that Cisco knows its competitors in the telecom equipment market are substantially weaker than they once were, leaving Cisco an opening to become "a number one strategic partner of service providers" if the company continues to make the right investments.

"They've got another tough year ahead of them. If they can continue to finance their way through this strategy… you can only surmise that Cisco may come out of this downturn as the next Lucent Technologies Inc. or Nortel Networks Corp., in terms of being the primary provider of service provider equipment.

"Their key competitor, by the way, is not going to end up being Lucent or Nortel, in my opinion. It's going to be Juniper Networks Inc."

One former Cisco executive says Nuti sometimes seemed disheartened that Cisco had yielded relatively few products compared to the number of acquisitions it had made and the dollars it spent in the service provider space. "That's one [issue] I'll avoid," Nuti says in response. "It's water under the bridge."

Some say Nuti's departure is remarkable in another way: It appears to be on Nuti's terms and timetable. "[Nuti] is one of the few who has left Cisco in the last few years," says Terry Eger, a former Cisco executive. "The rest all seem to get a [severance] package to go on a leave of absence and they just fade away." (See Cisco's DeNuccio Talks With Redback and Procket Recruits Cisco Connection.)

"We will miss Bill and we wish him well," says a Cisco spokesperson. Nuti's replacement has not yet been named.

From a technology point of view, many of Nuti's skills in selling networking gear to enterprises and service provider gear to carriers will translate directly to Symbol. Symbol makes portable data terminals and bar code scanners, as well as the gear and software required to tie those scanners into wireless local-area networks.

"[Symbol's] collection of assets is second to none and, I think, somewhat undervalued," Nuti says. "If you look at their product and technology roadmap… and really understand this company's knowledge of the supply chain… you have a company that I feel can drive significant growth in the future."

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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