Can I interest you in a company with exciting market opportunities, very deep pockets, and great management with all eyes on the ball? The business I'm talking about is CiscoSystems
The story so far
Let me take you back to 2004. Cisco had been siphoning off money from its massive cash flows for years, putting it into long-term investments. The year-end balance sheet showed $11 billion of long-term investment funds, on top of $3.7 billion in cash and $5 billion in short-term investments. And then that capital was put to work in a big way.
First, management spent $500 million to acquire consumer networking specialist Linksys. That gave the company a foot in the door of American consumers; then it pushed that door wide open with the $6.9 billion purchase of video equipment maker Scientific-Atlanta. That may be the best $6.9 billion the company could ever spend.
Into the living room
That acquisition did a couple of important things. First, it showed the world that Cisco is serious about putting its capital to work, and the three years of the acquisition process proved that it's willing to put in long hours of hard work to do it the right way. Management has been very open about the difficulties involved, but also about its vision of a future where video traffic rivals general networking in importance and market weight.
The idea of Cisco as a video maven isn't as farfetched as it might seem at first. Video can travel over the same lines of communication as any other data these days, a fact that Verizon
One more thing: Note that Cisco took on $6.3 billion of long-term debt to finance the acquisition, and left its cash-equivalent balance largely untouched at nearly $18 billion. When you're done boggling at that fact, consider what else the company might do with a war chest that large. It's enough to buy Akamai
And then what?
Cisco CEO John Chambers strikes me as a brilliant leader, thinking more about the far future than the next quarter, and surrounding himself with brilliant captains and lieutenants at all levels. In the parlance of Jim Collins, he looks like a Level 5 leader, the kind who can lead a company to enduring greatness. That means setting the company up for success long after Chambers himself is out of the picture, meaning that Cisco might fit well in your really-long-term retirement account.
The video strategy is but a small -- albeit important -- step in that process, and I'm just as excited about finding out where such a forward-thinking management team can take this brilliant company next. And I'm just as interested to hear why my esteemed opponent, Mr. Saletta, recommends a stagnant food-service business like SYSCO
Think you're done with the Duel? You're not! Go back and read the other three arguments, and then vote for a winner.
Akamai is a Rule Breakers recommendation, and TiVo is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Need new ideas for your money? Talk stocks with other investors and our analysts when you give our newsletters a try.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like. Foolish disclosure is your best bet for straight-up information, and the main reason why he doesn't own any Cisco stock yet. He needs to stop writing about it for a while.