NEW DELHI: Cisco Systems Chairman & CEO John Chambers said two Indians - Padmasree Warrior, 51, its CTO & chief strategy officer, and Pankaj Patel, 58, its executive vice-president & chief development officer - are in contention to succeed him as CEO when he steps down sometime in the next two-to-four years.
Sixty-three-year-old Chamber, the longest-serving chief of the $46-billion internet networking giant, has guided Cisco, once the world's most valuable company, through its rise, fall and rebirth after the dotcom bust of 2000. He took over as CEO in January 1995, when the company earned just $1.3 billion in revenues.
Asked if an Indian could succeed him, Chambers told ET: "Absolutely. I have two superstars who are from India - Warrior and Patel. Warrior is among the sharpest technology persons in the world. She has led Cisco through 15 acquisitions in the past 15 months, and Patel has emerged a leader across all our engineering teams. He is the best engineer I have ever seen."
This is the first time Chambers has mentioned the possibility of Indian-origin professionals as possible successors. He sees a future where India and Indians will play a key role in the company. "I bet my future on India," Chambers said.
About 30% of the company's workforce will be in India in the not-so-distant future, up from about one-sixth at present. Even six years ago, Cisco had only 1,400 people in India. That number has since grown to 11,300.
"I am looking at India beyond labour arbitrage or outsourcing. No other high-tech company has put majority of its R&D and services utilisation in India," Chambers said.
The Cisco board has shortlisted about 10 candidates who could succeed Chambers. It reviews the list every quarter.
"It seems obvious that Warrior is regarded inside Cisco as potential CEO material," Gartner Vice-President Andrew Butler had told ET last year.
Chambers, on a two-day visit to India, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, IT Minister Kapil Sibal and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. He emphasised the need for local and central governments to work in sync for broadband to take off in India. "Broadband has the potential to change education, healthcare, and create more jobs both in urban and rural areas. Enough pilots have been done to prove the concept. Now, India has to build scale."
"(About) 40% of your schools don't have a teacher at times. Broadband can change education delivery. Similarly, healthcare delivery can be overhauled with broadband, equipping doctors and nurses in remote areas. Broadband will also help create new jobs and an apps economy in India," he said.