At Cisco, Nowhere to Go but Out

Mike Volpi, a rising star at Cisco Systems who enjoyed a status rivaled only by Red Sox stud closer Jonathan Papelbon, has decided to leave the company.

volpismall.jpg Volpi, who was one of CEO John Chambers’ hand-picked men to help Cisco navigate the post-bubble crisis, has not decided where he will go next. The very continental Michelangelo, who was the senior Vice President and General Manager, Routing and Service Provider Technology Group is leaving on a high note – the router sales are strong again.

Volpi is also an ambitious man, would love to add the “CEO” title to his resume. He has done it all for someone so young – he is only 40 – He has made enough money, and has earned enough respect in the networking world to ride into the sunset. But Mr. Five-Lattes-a-Day Volpi isn’t ready for a Starbucks AARP discount just yet.

We had heard rumblings of this exit about three weeks ago, but could not find the second source to provide more background on the exit. Why would Volpi leave? Well, he has got nowhere to go. Even in a best-case scenario Volpi had a good 10-to-15 year wait before he got to the CEO’s office on Tasman Drive.

Chambers is only 56 years old and is going nowhere. The company has recovered nicely from the post bubble setback, and if recent quarter is any indication, is firing on all cylinders. Cisco reported Q2 net income of $1.9 billion on revenues of $8.4 billion, up from $1.4 billion and $6.6 billion in the same quarter last year.

Even if Chambers decides to retire in say five years, his heir apparent, Charlie Giancarlo, the Chief Development Officer and also the president of the Cisco-Linksys business unit — one of the fast growing groups within Cisco — will be in no hurry to leave his gig. He is only 49 as well, and clearly relishes the spotlight.

Interestingly, two other VPs — Pankaj Patel and Tony Bates — will team up to lead the new Service Provider Technology Group (SPTG), according to Light Reading. They are going to be reporting to Giancarlo.

Volpi’s decision highlights two things: first that Cisco has a really deep bench when it comes to filling senior management ranks, and secondly, if you are a Cisco executive with grand ambitions, well don’t stick around too long –- the top slot might not ever be yours for taking.