John Chambers Interview

John Chambers: Pace of Change Will Be 3-5 Times That of Internet Era

John Chambers steered technology behemoth Cisco for more than 25 years, growing the company’s revenue from $70 million to $47 billion and keeping it ahead of market transitions, in part, by strategically executing 180 acquisitions during his tenure. That means that John is not only uniquely positioned to understand the startup scene and how it relates to corporate innovation – he is able to spot a winner when he sees one.

We are very grateful that John, who now runs a purpose-driven venture capital firm called JC2 Ventures, will join us at 4YFN in Barcelona in February. The insights of a market mover like John promise to be invaluable when he hits the stage. Here we caught up with him briefly to get a glimpse of his approach to work and innovation and his big bets for the near future:

Why are you coming to 4YFN? What do you want to explore?

I am excited to be part of industry gatherings like 4YFN because I love meeting new, up-and-coming startups and their CEOs / founders who are advancing innovation in their respective fields.

What is your mantra when it comes to work and to innovation?

I believe that all leaders should compete against market transitions, not their competitors. As industries evolve, leaders also need to evolve themselves and their companies, otherwise they will get left behind. We are on the cusp of the biggest technology revolution the world has ever seen, where the pace of change will be 3-5 times that of the Internet Era.

The real magic happens when companies can make business model changes, enabled by new shifts in technology. That’s why I believe startups will be the core drivers of innovation in the future – they have the ability to quickly develop innovative tech solutions to stay ahead of market transitions.

What has been the biggest innovation or disruption to your field in the last 4 years?

I believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the biggest disruptors we have ever seen in the technology industry. AI will transform everything we do, from the way work gets done to the way we interact with devices within our homes.

At the same time, we need to recognize that AI will also bring a set of unique challenges to our society – just like any other major technology change would. That is why I believe now is the time for government and businesses to work together in order to reap the benefits of this emerging technology while also addressing challenges, like reskilling the workforce, head-on.

What technology are you most excited about 4 years from now and why? Tech areas I am watching closely include the Internet of Things, cloud moving to the edge, data analytics, machine learning, AI, cybersecurity, and robotics – especially in the Digital Age where already almost 15 billion devices are connected to the Internet, according to Gartner. Creating a world where everything is connected has the power to transform economies and generate new and inclusive opportunities for citizens all around the world. Many of the startups I’m investing in are contributing to this market transition, which is exciting because digitization has the potential to turn into a $19 trillion industry in terms of economic value in the future.