New-Wave Managers: John Chambers of Cisco

Last week, Fortune magazine featured five prominent CEOs and their views on new-millennium leadership. The five leaders have very different insights to offer -- and they're all quite Foolish.

I thought I'd run through the Fortune piece, one CEO at a time, and show you how the finest minds in corporate leadership today can help you find great investments. Today, we're looking at John Chambers, CEO of Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , who offers this pearl of wisdom:

"Yes, EPS and stock price are absolutely the score of the game, but business isn't about the score of the game you played in the last quarter or the last year. It's probably about decisions you made three or five years ago, and how well you were able to adjust your course."

What John is saying points to the value of management decisions made with a long-term perspective, rather than a focus on meeting short-term goals and expectations. And that's one of the things I look for when trying to get a feel for management quality. When I hear about Nortel's (NYSE: NT  ) new CEO operating on a long-term plan, that's a plus in my book. Likewise, I get nervous when I see companies like Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL  ) worrying too much about looking good for the short term, and ignoring low-hanging, juicy, long-term fruit.

In general, I don't mind dropping or lumpy earnings -- if the drops are there for a good reason. Technology companies like Cisco or Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , for example, should spend a lot on research and development, even if it means missing the occasional bottom-line target. And fast growers like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) or Audible (Nasdaq: ADBL  ) can manage their earnings by sinking more or less money into marketing and sales. Until they reach maturity, and attain their long-term subscriber count goals, I'm fine with low or negative earnings, if they're due to high marketing costs. That's just smart management.

But the market doesn't always see it that way. "Oh no, earnings are dropping! The sky is falling!" And so the Chicken Littles of the market run for the exits -- and give the smart investors with an eye on the long term a nice buy-in opportunity.

Chambers' quote also matches up quite well with Benjamin Graham's famous statement about the market being a short-term voting machine, but a long-term weighing machine. Management should focus on managing their weight, not their popularity, and it sounds like John Chambers understands that. It's yet another reason for me to like his company. Carry on, good sir.

Tune in tomorrow for insight from Anne Mulcahy of Xerox (NYSE: XRX  ) . I think she would get along famously with Tom Gardner ...

Further Foolish reading:

Short-term expectations on companies with long-term goals can create vertigo-inducing valuation mismatches. Philip Durell and his merry band of Fools at theMotley Fool Inside Valuenewsletter service are standing by to help you find great stocks at ridiculously low markdowns. Try a30-day trial subscriptionto see whether bargain-hunting is right for you.

Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns stock in Netflix (aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick), but holds no position in any other company discussed here. He thinks a waist is a terrible thing to mind. Foolishdisclosureisn't just smart, it's the law around here.


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