Technology

‘No Option to Be Quiet Now' — Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on Leadership During the Pandemic

Adam Galica | CNBC

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins has made countless, difficult decisions while leading the technology giant through a global pandemic, but the decision to speak out on the unique period of disruption was clear.

"I don't think that any of us have the option to be quiet anymore," Robbins told CNBC's David Faber.

CEOs have been called to step up in ways they never expected before taking the job of leading a major company. Robbins addressed how his team at Cisco approaches issues of inequality and political differences, describing the framework they have created to determine how they engage with the public on certain subjects.

In the end, Robbins said, it comes down to asking themselves what they are trying to achieve by commenting on matters outside of business discussions. "We don't do it lightly," he said. "In some cases it's a fundamental agreement that others need to hear leaders."

On addressing matters of business and ESG, Robbins thinks the two will become synonymous for companies.  "It's a new day," he said in a sit-down for CNBC's "Evolve: The Faber Interview" series. "We can't do interviews about our business with these issues going on."

With calls for more transparency in environmental, social and corporate governance reporting from investors, Cisco has been clear on its mission and has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within its supply chain by 30% by 2030. Cisco is also supporting its cloud partners in achieving their emissions goals with new technologies like the Cisco Silicon One that is designed to help save millions of dollars in energy costs.

Transparency has been especially important to Robbins when it comes to communicating with employees on the future of work. When considering the return to offices in a controlled-coronavirus world, Robbins thinks there will be major flexibility in jobs available to Cisco employees, but he admits he's heard eagerness from his peers on returning to their workspaces. Despite that desire to return, he said there has been no slowdown in the product Cisco is delivering.

"We have had some of the most incredible innovation coming out that the teams are working on now," Robbins said. "The productivity is much higher than we would have anticipated."

Perhaps Cisco's most popular offering has been its videoconferencing platform Webex, which gained popularity across many corporations as the pandemic forced organizations to work remotely. During October, for example, Cisco saw the app jump to nearly 600 million participants, double the number in March, when coronavirus lockdowns hit the U.S. In anticipation for the eventual return to office, the software company has launched new Webex products with detection devices to keep work environments safe for employee meetings.

When the time comes for a return to some semblance of normalcy, Robbins said that what he's looking forward to the most is getting to travel and interact with customers. "As we begin to see the recovery, I think it could be a very healthy economy and hopefully a good environment for all of us."

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