If you don’t already know who Chuck Robbins is then you will soon because he’s the new CEO at Cisco. In a move that has surprised many, the 17-year Cisco veteran has been plucked from his position as leader of the company’s global sales and partner team.

After years of deliberating, the retirement of longtime CEO John Chambers was certainly no surprise. However, on a shortlist of 10 candidates drawn up over the last two years Robbins was never really considered a frontrunner. President of development and sales Rob Lloyd and COO Gary Moore are just two names that many thought were leading the race.

But Cisco has become known for not making the obvious choice. And Chambers had talked of retirement for years, with many previous heirs to the throne seemingly growing tired of playing the waiting game. Chief Strategy Officer Ned Hooper left in 2013 while Chambers’ number two Charlie Giancarlo also jumped ship in 2008. Plus, he has big shoes to fill.

It’s been a long twenty years since Chambers took up his position as CEO at Cisco and the world has changed. Facebook, Twitter and even Myspace weren’t even at the design stage when the then 45-year-old Chambers became the top dog, his appointment coinciding with the phenomenal growth of the Internet in mid-to-late 1990s.

During his 20 years as CEO, it could be claimed that Cisco changed the world. At the height of the dot-com bubble, Cisco were the most valuable company in the world with a market capitalisation of more than US$500 billion. In July 2014, with a market cap of about US$129 billion, Cisco remains one of the world’s most valuable companies.

But recently times have been tough. Cisco hit a rough patch in 2011 with a huge re-organisation programme and since then the company has announced annual layoffs at the end of every fiscal year. A more recent reorganisation also saw further job cuts. So what does the future hold for Cisco and Chuck Robbins?

One thing’s for certain, Robbins certainly has a lot to live up to. Whether he succeeds or fails remains to be seen. All we do know is that he needs to go a long way before he can emerge from the shadow of the departing John Chambers. And with Chambers staying on as Executive Chairman, the pressure is on.

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