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Cisco's Ahuja Quits as Robbins Revamps His Top Team

Kelly Ahuja, who has led Cisco's service provider business for 18 years, has stepped down. The resignation is part of a reorganization that consolidates the core service provider segment with service provider cloud, video, NFV and mobility into a single service provider business led by Yvette Kanouff.

Kanouff is a relative newcomer to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). She joined in 2014 as head of the service provider video business, and is currently SVP and GM of cloud solutions. (See CEO Chat With Yvette Kanouff, Head of Cisco's Cloud Business and Cisco's Kanouff Says the ‘Door is Open' for Women in Comms.)

CEO Chuck Robbins announced the change in an internal company email Monday obtained by Light Reading. The email also describes reorganization of the engineering department, carried out by Robbins in collaboration with Pankaj Patel, Cisco EVP and chief development officer. Patel announced his own resignation from Cisco in January, although this is not due to take effect until the second half of 2016. (See Cisco EVP Development Patel Says Sayonara.)

The engineering reorganization is designed to ensure Cisco maintains leadership in networking "while also investing in other, equally critical, next-generation areas that will define our future," Robbins says.

Engineering is aligning around four key areas: networking and market segments; cloud services and platforms; IoT and applications; and security. Leaders in those four areas will report to Robbins and serve on the executive leadership team (ELT). Patel will lead the engineering team and continue to serve on the ELT during its transition.

The service provider segment will fall under the networking, market segments and solutions organization, along with the core software group, core hardware group, enterprise segment and technology and architecture office.

"I'd like to express my deep gratitude to Kelly Ahuja for his 18 years of leadership in service provider," Robbins says. "Our customers have deep respect for Kelly's expertise, and he has been critical to our success."

In other changes, Zorawar Biri Singh is to continue as CTO of cloud services and platforms and will step up to lead the next-generation data center strategy, working with Insieme leaders and the networking group. The computing systems product group will move to Singh's team, led by senior VP Liz Centoni. (See Mentor Monday: Cisco's Liz Centoni.)

Robbins singled out data, data fabrics and analytics as strategic to cloud-first hybrid IT environments, and said the company is organizing its data and analytics solutions to be led by Singh, with Mala Anand, SVP of the analytics and automation business unit, joning Singh's team. Singh will also head up Cisco's Intercloud business.

Meanwhile, David Goeckeler will continue as head of the security business unit, joining the ELT and reporting directly to Robbins.

In addition, Rowan Trollope is to continue as head of the IoT and collaboration businesses. Trollope will also join the ELT following Cisco's recent $1.4 billion acquisition of IoT cloud provider Jasper Technologies. (See Cisco Preps IoT Platform of Pillars & Products and Cisco Looks to Jasper Acquisition to Transform Enterprises – & Itself.)

In an internal company email, Ahuja describes his decision to step down as "difficult." Here is the message he sent to his Cisco colleagues:


    By now you should have seen the announcements from Chuck and Pankaj regarding my difficult decision to leave Cisco. There comes a time when you reflect back on the amazing experiences you have had and begin to consider what should come next. I've recently hit some personal milestones, such as my 25th wedding anniversary to my wonderful wife, my 18th anniversary here at Cisco and my upcoming 50th birthday. These have caused me to reflect on my past as well as think about the future. So with that, I'm taking steps toward a new path because I have always believed "we do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experiences."

    I could not be more proud of all that we have accomplished together. In partnership with Nick Adamo, Cedrik Neike & Yvette Kanouff and their teams, we have changed the trajectory of the business - the SP business is back! Yvette has a long history in the SP industry and I am confident she will execute on the vision and strategy we created together. In the coming weeks, I will partner closely with Yvette to transition my responsibilities. She and I will determine next steps for engaging our key customers and strategic partners, while retaining focus on what’s also important – our people, this team.

    My career at Cisco has been rewarding and full of both professional and personal achievements. It has been my 'home away from home' filled with family and friends. I plan to take all that I have learned from each of you and use it on my next journey, wherever that may take me. I thank you all for your guidance, support and friendship over the years and wish you all the best of success in the future. I will be watching for great things from Cisco and you in the headlines.

    Finally, let’s not say goodbye but rather “hello" in advance for the next time we meet.

    Thank You!


Ahuja's resignation comes only weeks after he chatted with Light Reading about the monumental communications changes impacting the service provider sector. (See CEO Chat With Kelly Ahuja on Cisco's Service Provider Business.)

The reorganization is the latest in a series of changes at Cisco going back to at least November, 2014, when Patel led an earlier shake-up of the engineering department designed to "bust silos" and end duplication of engineering services between business units. At that time, Cisco had seen year-on-year revenues decline, a trend which it has since reversed, with service provider revenues doing particularly well. "A change like this happens once in a generation -- every ten or 15 years," Patel said at the time. That reorganization lined up the engineering group in a pyramid underneath the enterprise and service provider heads. (See Troubled Cisco Looks to 'Bust Silos' and Service Provider & Cloud Help Cisco Beat Expectations.)

In November, Cisco and Ericsson -- two of the world's biggest networking suppliers -- announced a strategic partnership on 5G, IoT, NFV and cloud R&D. (See Cisco & Ericsson Forge Killer Partnership, 'Ciscosson' Aims for Future-Proof Partnership, What's the Deal Behind 'Ciscosson'? and Cisco Struts Virtual Mobile, 5G & Ericsson Partnership at MWC.)

Want to know more about the cloud? Visit Light Reading's cloud services content channel.

In May last year, longtime CEO John Chambers stepped down, and the company named Robbins as his successor, effective July. (See Cisco's Robbins to Replace Chambers as CEO, Chambers's Legacy: A Resurgent Cisco and Robbins Succeeds Chambers as Cisco Changes CEOs.)

Robbins has since picked his own management team. Soon after he was named successor, company presidents Rob Lloyd and Gary Moore announced they were leaving, along with CTO Padmasree Warrior. Lloyd had been widely viewed as Chambers' heir apparent. (See 2 Cisco Presidents Quit, Cisco CTO Warrior Is Out Too – Report and Ex-Cisco President Lloyd Gets Way Cooler Job.)

Robbins named his new leadership team in June, along with more executive departures, followed by another round of executive appointments in July. (See New Cisco Leadership Favors Diversity and Cisco Brings in New Blood for Tech Leadership.)

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading.

llTheSystemll 3/22/2016 | 8:40:53 PM
Re: 18 years -- that's impressive!! i worked at cisco systems for 16 years in engineering.   he may be popular but therein lies the issue with many of the leaders throughout the years at cisco.  being popular does not always translate into being a great and effective leader.  SP BU has been perfoming poorly for many many years.  i really hope that the changes make a positive impact.   time will tell but cisco has been in a constant state of reorg since at leat 2009.   this is a real indication of the problems being at the top and not the bottom rank and file who until robbins took over were the folks held accountable for failures like Ahuja.
DanJones 3/22/2016 | 11:54:40 AM
Re: 18 years -- that's impressive!! Well,  it might be down to the changing of the guard. Chambers once said if Ahuja could figure out how Cisco could make money off selling RAN gear then he'd consider it. I got the impression they worked very closely together.
cnwedit 3/22/2016 | 11:41:56 AM
Re: 18 years -- that's impressive!! It is impressive and probably why it's hard for me to imagine Cisco's SP business without Kelly.
[email protected] 3/22/2016 | 10:41:40 AM
18 years -- that's impressive!! That's pretty amazing that anyone could command a job like that for 18 years and still not have celebrated their 50th birthday... and I know from unprompted comments from folks at Cisco that Kelly has been a very popular leader.

What will be interesting to watch during the next few months is whether (or how) Cisco's service provider strategy evolves under Kanouff.

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