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By yogaboat
May 10, 2001

Posts selected for this feature rarely stand alone. They are usually a part of an ongoing thread, and are out of context when presented here. The material should be read in that light. How are these posts selected? Click here to find out and nominate a post yourself!

This is my first post here, though I've been reading this board for a few years. I'm well aware that successful investing is done with careful and astute research and evaluation, not necessarily with sentiment. But I felt compelled to finally share some thoughts. Please forgive the "soft" terminology that follows, and be human for a moment.

I'm amazed and disheartened at how much negativity about Cisco is written by people who are not even inside the company. Everyone wants to see the top dog fall. I'm not sure I understand the logic of that. Why would one want to see a free and public example of successful business self-combust? Why isn't it seen as a role model and a resource? Why be jealous toward something that you could use to your benefit?

I also find it interesting how the media slants things about Cisco as well. Sometime in the last six months (apology for lack of precise memory), there was a serious security issue with the IOS software in one of Cisco's main product lines. Cisco flew to each customer site to inform them of the problem, bringing the corrected software with them to install. When the news came out, the main story was about the security flaw. It didn't even mention how it was handled, and that the problem was already resolved.

In the May 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine, there is an article interviewing eight seasoned business leaders on weathering economic downturns. They were CEOs and board chairpeople of companies like Citicorp, Global Motors, Catalyst, the Blackstone Group, John Templeton Foundation, to name a few. They pinpointed key survival activities:

- Never forget the customer
- Be flexible, innovate with what you have, be free to fail, take risks
- Don't throw out the long-term strategy in the face of short-term adversity
- Keep a pulse on the big picture: Competitors and partners worldwide

Cisco is doing all those things. They aren't perfect. But they have an amazing commitment to adapt to change and play smart with the cards they have. Cold, hard, numbers-only companies are a dime a dozen. They are greedy, and forgetful that PEOPLE make their wheels turn. They couldn't care less how their corner of the [market] world may touch other corners. They are shortsighted, looking only in the immediate neighborhoods, or even cities, not at how what they do could affect the rest of the planet. They don't see us as all one team in the big picture.

Yes, the success of the Internet will make Cisco a lot of money. But they also want to share, and have done so not only in offering a generous severance package in the recent layoffs, but also in taking care of their employees well when times were better.

Why should you believe what I say is valid? Because I worked there for five years, and was laid off on April 24th.

One evening back in '97 I was getting ready to leave work. We had been working long hours, preparing for expansion at the RTP site, and were, well, a bit burned out. In my exhaustion I neglected to pay attention to my gas gauge, and when I went to crank it up, it sputtered lifelessly. Security was patrolling and saw the problem. They called a local service station up the road, which brought me four gallons of gas. Free. And got me on my way. There are many more stories about the growth opportunities and benefits there. It truly is a GREAT, and thinking, company.

In a world where the non-computer users greatly outnumber those who do, THAT is the real market. And it is much bigger than what exists today. How many people and businesses do you know that use computers now are throwing them out the window, or stripping the www.whateverIam.com labels off their trucks and advertising? Not many I'd bet. They will always upgrade, they've made the technology shift.

But those who haven't need a leg up. Those without the means or wealth. Cisco has a philanthropic presence worldwide to empower people to help themselves make the shift. So they, too, can share information and improve life in some way with this revolution. They established the networking academies to get high school and younger groups into the flow of things. They are a main sponsor of the Food Bank. They have partnered cross culturally -- with India, for example -- to mutually benefit from their talent and to enhance the business opportunities of their main export: people. They meet with business leaders and country leaders worldwide to help them understand the purpose for the infrastructure they need. And it's not *just* because they want to make money. Of course there's write-off action in there. They're not idiots, and they are, after all, in business. Seems contradictory at first glance.

If you had $400 million+ dollars would YOU keep working? I think it speaks volumes about the character of John Chambers and John Morgridge and their dedication to a vision. I will say that the culture has changed a bit; it had to because of sheer size. But the original spirit is still there, struggling to survive. It's very easy to tell the true Cisco employee from the placebo: The real ones rarely mention the stock. They are focused on their job, doing it well, being frugal, doing what has to be done, and upholding the culture, and making Cisco what it is.

Unfortunately, the placebos are increasing in number, so it's a bit of a challenge to sustain the real thing. But I'm sure they (we? see below) will rise to the occasion. Cisco has a third of the number of employees as its competitors. There is no choice there but to be efficient and focused.

This link is the latest opportunity it offers.
 
IMHO, Cisco is one classy organization that successfully balances savvy business with philanthropic conscience. I'm personally quite excited about the possibilities of my future career, whether associated with Cisco directly or not. The principles I learned there will be with me regardless of my next chapter. I don't know about you, but I would proudly invest in such a rare company.

Thanks for your patience. I hope the firsthand information is helpful to you in some way.

As always, Fool on!