By Peter High. Published on Forbes.
In 2017, John Chambers retired from Cisco Systems, a company he had run for more than two decades. During his time with the company, it had grown from $70 million in annual revenue to $47 billion. Once he retired, he had a chance to reflect on his career, as well as to plot his next move. The former led to his authoring a new book Connecting The Dots: Lessons For Leadership In A Startup World. The latter would have him starting his own venture capital firm, JC2 Ventures.
Chambers now offers capital and advice for start-ups who wish to follow the path toward the scale and the success that he achieved. He also has become an advisor to heads of states, as he consults to both India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
As Chambers contemplates where his success comes from, he returns to his roots in West Virginia. Born the son of two physicians, he was taught to value education from a young age. Chambers is a dyslexic, a detail that he kept hidden until well after he had ascended the CEO role at Cisco Systems. Through help from caring educators in his youth, he learned to turn his weakness into a strength. He now tells everyone about his dyslexia to inspire other dyslexics, but also to inspire anyone who feels they have an impediment that is holding them back. His refusal to let a weakness define him was, itself, a key to his success. He notes, “We all have setbacks, and your character is more of a product of how you handle these setbacks than your successes are.”
Chambers’ aims to help his home state and others learn the key lessons of Silicon Valley, and imitate the dramatic change that has transpired in France, a country he once vowed not to do business in due to its antiquated and often bureaucratic business practices. He hopes that the same combination of good government and ambitious entrepreneurs may lead to positive change in West Virginia and beyond. We cover all of this and more in this interview.
(To listen to an unabridged podcast version of this interview, please click this link. This is the 29th interview in the IT Influencers series. To listen to past interviews with the likes of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Sal Khan, Sebastian Thrun, Steve Case, Craig Newmark, Stewart Butterfield, and Meg Whitman, please visit this link. To read future articles in the series, please follow me on Twitter @PeterAHigh.)
Peter High: You began your terrific book, Connecting The Dots: Lessons For Leadership In A Startup World, by discussing your roots in West Virginia. Could you reflect on the lessons you learned from your youth?