Cisco Systems turns 30 years old this week. But as business currently stands, there's little reason to celebrate.
Sales have declined in three of the past four quarters, profitability has dropped in five straight, and in August the company said it was cutting 6,000 jobs, or 8 percent of its workforce. Skeptics see the company's ubiquitous networking gear getting uprooted by an industry-wide shift to cloud computing and a decoupling of hardware and software.
Wall Street expects little better than 3 percent revenue growth in fiscal 2015, with meager acceleration from there.
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Chuck Robbins, Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide field operations, is doing his best to change the tone. The 17-year company loyalist and one of the top lieutenants to Chief Executive Officer John Chambers says math is working in Cisco's favor.
Robbins, who graduated with a mathematics degree from the University of North Carolina, spent a good chunk of April and May digging into the numbers and concluded that Cisco can return to double-digit sales growth. While the norm for much of the 2000s, Cisco hasn't recorded expansion like that in four years, and things have since been going in quite the opposite direction.
Here's the abbreviated version of Robbins' equation: The data center and wireless businesses grew by more than 10 percent in the latest quarter, and security jumped 25 percent. The trouble was largely an 18 percent decline in sales to U.S. service providers like AT&T and Verizon.
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The carriers will have to come back to build faster networks. Couple that with an eventual improvement in emerging markets (revenue dropped 7 percent in the leading emerging countries last quarter) and the Cisco we once knew reappears, or so the thinking goes.
"We've got a long way to go, we've got a lot to do and this is just Chuck's little mathematical exercise," Robbins said in an interview at the company's San Jose, California, headquarters.