6. John Chambers: Cisco
“When I started, I viewed my job as three main areas: vision and strategy of the company, development and recruitment of the team to implement that vision and strategy, and the need to communicate all of the above. Within about four or five years I realized there was something that many of us do not understand when we take a leadership role: culture. Great companies have very strong and great cultures. A huge part of a leadership role is to drive the culture of the company and to reinforce it. The other thing that has changed dramatically is [a shift] from command and control to collaboration and teamwork. It sounds easy to do, but it’s hard, because you are trained that way in M.B.A. school, in law school. Around 80 to 90 percent of the job is how we work together toward common goals, which requires a different skill set.” (Newsweek) REUTERS

One reason shares of Cisco Systems rose as much as 17 percent Thursday, more than they had since 2006, is because the No. 1 networking company reported better-than-expected financial results.

But the real reason could be investors continue to buy into the management skills of CEO John T. Chambers, one of Silicon Valley's savviest and shrewdest executives, who helped drive Cisco into first place.

At 61, Chambers, Cisco's CEO since 1995 and Chairman since 2006, is responsible for the networking products maker's rise to dominance, its brief spell as the most valued U.S. company and acquisitions of companies like WebEx, Scientific-Atlanta and Tandberg that added functionality to Cisco.

Soft-spoken, with the West Virginia drawl of his youth, Chambers comes across as genial and mannerly, perhaps understating his role as an Internet visionary who understood consumers and businesses want all the services Web users demand today.

Chambers also bit the bullet when trouble came, recognizing Cisco, based in San Jose, Calif., had to become more profitable again as global economies eased, especially as orders from "public sector" customers like government agencies and universities dried up.

"What we're learning to do in the enterprise and commercial is do a much better job of selling the whole solution," he said after fourth quarter results went out.

Besides a better focus, Chambers also has slashed costs, as part of a $1 billion campaign, fired 6,500 people, said another 5,000 will go from a plant in Mexico, removed various internal company committees and concentrated on the technology. He also acknowledged Cisco had to lower margins to meet challenges from smaller rivals like Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications and the big computer makers headed by HP and Dell.

Chambers came to Cisco after seven years at Wang Laboratories, the word-processing king of the 1970s and 1980s that collapsed when it couldn't manage the transition to the computer world. Clearly, he learned from that.

It will be a long stretch until Cisco can go back to the glory days of March 2000, when Cisco's market cap topped $555.4 billion, surpassing Microsoft to be the world's most valuable company.

Even in Thursday's recovery, Cisco' cap is only $88.7 billion. By contrast, Thursday's champion, Apple, stands at $342 billion.

Wednesday night, Chambers sounded more like a coach than a CEO when he told investors, "We clearly won the majority of jump balls" and said Cisco will use its prowess and trimmer figure to be more aggressive going ahead.

After all these years, investors are giving him yet another chance to prove his leadership.