Inder Sidhu brings out the key tenets of of Cisco's strategy very well with his theme-based discussions. Cisco is an outstanding exemplar of a firm that has been able to combine profits and productivity — today's success — with expansion and adaptation in an uncertain environment leading to tomorrow's growth. This is the core theme of the book: the seamless fusion inside Cisco of highly optimized operations co-existing with truly flexible, innovative and adaptive continuous expansion. This is a tall order – very very few high tech companies have been so consistently successful as Cisco is in pursuing this strategy – in fact, examples of companies that could not manage ever-evolving transitions abound in the high tech space. Making spin-in acquisitions for talent, new ideas, new lines of business have proven to be a tough task to execute by many business.
As a company besotted with growth, Cisco keeps trying multiple options and in the process tries many novel things to keep growing and maintaining the margins. The principles and the thought process behind the acquisitions like Linksys, Scientific Atlanta, Webex make great reading- I particularly liked the discussion about what new things Cisco got out of these acquisitions in terms of learning and practice knowledge besides their products and services – this is very very important to know that such a culture of reverse assimilation is instituitionalised inside Cisco. The rest of the book is skillfully presented and interesting.
The book is full of insights into global strategy and execution – It covers significant areas like how Cisco re-jigged its supply chain soon after it had to write off two billion dollars in the dot com bust attributed to supply chain build up, Cisco’s globalization efforts including how it scaled up India as the alternate global headquarters outside of San Jose. For example, in the case of supply chain, Cisco implemented a rationalization plan that brought 1300 component suppliers down to less than 300 in four years and it reduced the number of contract manufacturers that it worked with from 20 to four in the same timeframe. Doing Both shows that today Cisco is able to handle two times the volume that it had during dot com days and more importantly could get this done with half the people! Successful companies need to take tough decisions and execute on those decisions very well and the book shows Cisco is no exception in this.
Another important reading in Doing Both lies in Cisco’s structure in bringing executive teams together to drive new initiatives together and charter areas of growth around new ideas. Inside Cisco, powers have been shifted from traditional business owners – like head of sales, marketing, and engineering into councils and boards, populated with executives across the company. These councils and boards complement the traditional hierarchy, providing scale and replicability of a centralized company and the speed and flexibility of a decentralized one. Cisco’s IT absorption in the last ten years is well chronicled and how it is now trying to push the collaboration framework inside shows the unending zeal with Cisco keeps pushing new frontiers. A very lucid description of Cisco’s decision making mechanism is covered inside the book. Takeaway: A highly collaborative system can also move fast if properly driven and can yield significant returns.