'The great thing about India is that you had the opportunity to put in smart infrastructure as opposed to retrofitting it.
'I think you are spot on with the SMEs.
'All around the world, so much of the jobs are getting created in that space.
'It is important for us to work together to provide digital infrastructure and capabilities for India.'
Chuck Robbins, chairman and CEO of American technology giant Cisco, was visiting India at a time when the world’s largest democracy is busy forming the next government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Cisco boss, who has met the Indian PM several times in the past, feels that he has done a phenomenal job when it comes to ease of doing business.
In an interview with Peerzada Abrar and Romita Majumdar, Robbins said that Cisco would continue to bet heavily on India’s engineering talent pool. Edited excerpts:
You have met Prime Minister Modi in the past. How do you rate him when it comes to enabling ease of doing business?
I think your prime minister has done a phenomenal job, and that is reflected in the results of the elections that we just saw.
Our discussions (with Modi) have primarily been around the initiatives he is interested in driving, most of which are enabled through some element of technology.
For example, the whole ‘Digital India’ initiative.
We spent a lot of time talking about manufacturing, education, smart cities, creating start-ups and entrepreneurship, skilling for the future and broadband access for everybody.
India would need an investment of $4.5 trillion till 2040 to develop infrastructure and improve economic growth and community well-being. How does Cisco see India as an opportunity when it comes to tapping large government and defence projects?
The great thing about India is that you had the opportunity to put in smart infrastructure as opposed to retrofitting it.
I think you are spot on with the SMEs.
All around the world, so much of the jobs are getting created in that space.
It is important for us to work together to provide digital infrastructure and capabilities for India.
When you became CEO of Cisco, you outlined an ambitious plan to steer it from a hardware-focused firm to tap opportunities in cloud computing and software subscription. Could you share some insights on this transformation?
When I became the CEO, a lot of forces were coming together - cloud computing, software-defined networking, the notion of the white box, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and so on.
All this created a moment in time where we had to change a lot in order to be positioned.
I am proud of what we accomplished.
We are still very early in the work, but we have made a lot of progress.
Some of the key learnings are that the people side is still the most important thing to get right.
So I shifted hard last year to almost completely focus internally on the culture and people, making sure they are energised and understand what we are trying to accomplish.
How does the India employee base fit into Cisco’s global strategy, including restructuring?
We have significant engineering resources in India and we have built a lot of great technologies here.
I think 60 per cent of engineers we have here are working on software, but we build great hardware too.
India is blessed - you have lot of talent here.
We have operational talent, internal IT talent, services for our customers and engineering here.
It is a broad base and we will continue to invest here.
There is a huge wave of 5G technology that is expected. How is Cisco working with telecom operators, providers and enterprises on this?
As far as 5G in concerned, we are building infrastructure with our service provider partners to make it happen.
The majority of the return on investment that they (telcos) are going to outlay will be delivered through enterprise services.
We are the largest enterprise networking company in the world and we have the ability to help them build the services.
What impact do you think the US-China trade war will have on industry, including players such as Cisco? Would it open opportunities for countries like India?
We could see potential challenges in our business in China as a result of this.
However, my bigger concern now is what the impact on the global macro-economic environment will be.
We have been on a multi-year global economic expansion, and this is the biggest risk we have from the US-China trade war.
I think whenever there is a challenge for some countries, there is an opportunity for other countries to receive foreign direct investment.
So you could assume there is an opportunity for India.
Cisco has so far spent more than $70 billion on acquisitions. Since Indian is a start-up hub, do you see these young firms as acquisition targets?
Yes. We have a couple of hundred million dollars that we have allocated to the venture capital here.
So far, we have invested in around 25 companies here and we have acquired two.
I think our acquisition volume will be in areas like analytics, automation, security, artificial intelligence-based DevOps tools.
Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters