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The Vision Thing: Cisco Has It

I was sad to hear that my old buddy, football coach Dan Reeves, got the ax earlier this week. According to Arthur Blank, the Atlanta Falcons' owner, Reeves' 3-10 record this season wasn't the main reason for his sacking. Instead, the blade fell because the owner thought Reeves lacked a confident, long-term vision for the future -- a problem that Cisco Systems' John Chambers will never have, at least anytime soon.

OK, so maybe that transition wasn't as smooth as a handoff to the tailback.

But a solid performance by CEO Chambers in his keynote speech at Cisco's annual analyst conference made it clear that he has a long-term plan to take Cisco to the next level of success, and is confident he's the one to lead the way.

Some of the appeal of the speech, of course, can be chalked up to Chambers' Southern-flavored charm, a trait he shares with Reeves (who you just have to like because he can turn the word "film" into a complete sentence by pronouncing it "Fee-uh-hmm"). Chambers' silky smoothness came across loud and clear, even through the filter of an Internet webcast link. But there was substance behind Chambers' sermon Wednesday, the forward-thinking kind that doesn't get much play in the what's-shipping-today headlines.

In front of financial analysts -- a crowd that generally can't see past the current quarter -- Chambers talked confidently of 3-year and 5-year goals, and ambitious productivity gains that may be elusive in the near-term future. He also talked about changing Cisco from being a product-focused company to one that helps customers build an overall IT process -- a message that might not help Cisco's stock price this week, but it might be attractive to CIOs looking for help as networks get bigger and more complex to design and administer.

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