Robbins is just back from China, where he spoke at the World Internet Conference alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Robbins said it's somewhere between his 16th and 18th trip to China in the past five years.
His frequent travel across the Pacific Ocean is indicative of an evolving relationship between Cisco and the world's second-largest economy. China has long presented a challenge to U.S. technology companies, due to the country's rigid control over internet content and its favorable treatment of domestic vendors.
In 2013, Cisco was among a number of large American companies essentially blacklisted by China after the revelations from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. was spying on foreign governments.
"We have seen gradual improvements over there over the last couple years," Robbins told CNBC on Monday, before taking the stage at the annual shareholders meeting in San Jose, California. "There are no shortcuts in China. You have to invest the time there and you have to build the relationships there and understand the market."
Robbins, a Cisco veteran of two decades, was head of global sales until mid-2015, when he succeeded John Chambers as CEO. Chambers held the role of chairman until Monday.
Robbins has overseen a rally in the stock of late. The shares have jumped 26 percent in the past four months to $37.96, the highest since 2001 and the dot-com crash.