Rural Georgia may seem like an unlikely birthplace for the future leader of a Silicon Valley tech titan, but that's exactly where Cisco boss Chuck Robbins hails from. His father was a planning and zoning commissioner for Grayson, Georgia, and his mother was a secretary at the county courthouse. Meanwhile, his grandfather had a farm right next door.
In high school, Robbins showed unusual ambition and talent. His ability to balance athletics (he helped win a state championship in basketball), minimum wage jobs, and academics was rewarded with acceptance into the University of North Carolina. There, inspired by the early days of bulletin boards and dial-up modems, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a computer science concentration in 1987.
Robbins began his professional career as an application developer for North Carolina National Bank. After five years, he joined Wellfleet Communications, which merged with SynOptics to become Bay Networks. This career move was followed by a brief stint at Ascend Communications, before he joined Cisco in 1997.
Long before he was Cisco's CEO, he started off as an account manager. This was a natural fit for Robbins because he had held managerial positions at two previous companies. However, it was not long before he rose to regional manager and operations director, which in turn served as springboards for a further rise through the Cisco ranks.
By the time Cisco’s then-CEO was ready to step down, Robbins had made it to SVP of Worldwide Field Operations, leading the company's global sales and partner team, which generated $47 billion in business. In 2015, after nearly two decades spent as a member of the company's management team, he was appointed to the position of CEO of Cisco, which still ranks as one of the largest and most influential software and hardware businesses in the world.
It is worthwhile to note that the choice of Robbins to succeed the outgoing CEO came as a surprise to many insiders, especially because there were a couple of presidents who were believed to be front-runners for the job. However, considering his successful tenure with the company, his elevation should not have been as unexpected as it was in hindsight.
Yahoo Finance cited him as a major figure behind Cisco's $2.1 billion acquisition of Meraki in 2012, which gave his company the means to control Wi-Fi networks through the cloud. Additionally, Robbins was involved with the $2.7 billion acquisition of Sourcefire, a deal which strengthened Cisco’s standing in the network security market.
As CEO, Robbins is noted for his acceleration of Cisco's modern growth, which means replacing outdated working models. Among his numerous contributions, he is also credited with promoting a culture of employee trust based on transparency of policy and process. In late 2017, as a testament to his ongoing successful tenure, Robbins was elected chairman by the company’s board of advisors.