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Cisco taps chief strategy officer

Mergers and acquisitions man

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Networking giant and server wannabe Cisco Systems has elevated Ned Hooper - currently its senior vice president of corporate development and consumer - to the expanded role of chief strategy officer.

Hooper has been at Cisco for the past eleven years and came to the company when Cisco acquired Lightspeed International in January 1996 for $160m in stock. Lightspeed was a maker of chips and software for transforming and transmitting voice traffic over Internet protocol switches and routers and that allowed different types of telco networks (such as SS7 and broadband) to connect to telecom PBXs and gateways in the early days of Voice over IP.

During his career at Cisco, Hooper rose to the position of vice president of business development and spearheaded many of the acquisitions that Cisco has made in the past decade, including Linksys (consumer routers), Scientific Atlanta (set-top boxes), WebEx (Webcasting), IronPort Systems (security appliances), Airspace (wireless networking), and Pure Digital (Flip video camera). By Cisco's accounting, the deals that Hooper has done have added an additional $5bn to the top line since 2002.

Hooper's most recent and elevated title already included a broadening of his responsibilities, and being tapped as chief strategy officer for the whole company now makes him the point-man on developing Cisco's business strategy and plans of attack as Cisco expands into new markets. Such as making key acquisitions, as Cisco tries to become a player in the server racket with its "California" Unified Computing System, which debuted in March.

Like IBM, Cisco can't afford to lose a key mergers and acquisition executive to a competitor, and it is doing long-range executive seasoning for the day when its top executive retires. IBM's Sam Palmisano, who holds all the cards (president, chief executive officer, and chairman) and who is currently 58 years old, will probably retire in 2011, and the company has just lost David Johnson, its top M&A expert, to rival Dell.

The one thing Cisco surely does not want to have happen is for Hooper to get a sweet deal from one of its rivals - particularly its new server rivals - as an M&A expert. So elevating Hooper's title and giving him control of strategy is one way of keeping him at Cisco.

While John Chambers, who has the roles of chairman and chief executive officer at Cisco and who is 59, explained earlier this year that he intends to stay at Cisco for "a minimum of three to five more years," Cisco has to get other executives ready to take over and quite possible to split up some roles that Chambers covers.

This is one reason why we see so much of Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's chief technology officer, these days. Cisco does not have a president. It has a chief financial officer (not a path to the top, usually), plus five senior vice presidents (one of them is Hooper) and five executive vice presidents. Warrior is not one of the SVPs or EVPs. Watch for Warrior to get an elevated role and an expanded title soon. Cisco can't afford to lose her either. ®

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