President and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems Inc., which of course is the reigning powerhouse in routers. Born Aug. 23, 1949 in Cleveland, Chambers grew up in West Virginia and has the accent to prove it. He's best known for being at the helm when Cisco became the highest-valued high-tech company in the world, but his legacy will depend on how well Cisco weathers the downturn of 2001.

Chambers came to Cisco from Wang Laboratories, where he was #2 in the line of command. Joining Cisco as a senior vice president in 1991, he was named president/CEO in 1995. He says his business philosophy is based on Wang's mistakes, specifically that the company coasted while technology passed it by.

Employees I've spoken with like Chambers for his straightforward approach with them, and for his accessibility. Through the year 2000, and possibly beyond, all employees working in San Jose got to talk with Chambers once per year, via the company's "birthday breakfasts." At the start of each month, employees with a birthday that month would congregate for a special breakfast talk by Chambers, after which he'd field questions on pretty much any topic (benefits were usually high on the list). It was a cool idea but has probably faded out as Cisco's empire has grown and the logistics of these breakfasts got more complicated.

Employees also appreciate Chambers' admission that his kids mean more to him than Cisco does. It's a refreshing attitude for Silicon Valley, where work tends to come first, and family life is something you sacrifice. Chambers accepts that people have lives beyond Cisco, and that's a depressingly rare attitude among Valley CEOs.

Another charming tidbit: Under Chambers, no one flies business class or first class unless they do so on their own dime. Groundling employees love this; higher-ups probably resent it a little. The idea is partly to save money, but ostensibly it's also to prevent anyone from thinking they're all that important. Chambers follows the rule, too, but in an extreme fashion: he's bought a personal jet that he uses for all business trips.

Chambers may honestly be a nice guy, but I still harbor doubts. I'd believe in him more were it not for Cisco's less palatable past; their sales people in particular are said to be rather sleazy, and their field reps reportedly have no qualms about "lifting" technology learned from partners. Chambers wouldn't have his job if some part of him didn't fit into that environment.

His 2000 compensation, if you care, was $323,000 in salary and a $1 million bonus. He owns roughly 17 million shares of Cisco stock.

UPDATED September 4, 2001, replacing the original two-line E1 writeup. More biographical info to come, as well as (maybe) a general, oversimplified look at what analysts think of Chambers and his "acquire like mad" strategy for Cisco.

Source: -- Shareholder proxy (DEF 14A) available at Edgar Online:

John Chambers was the makeup man on Star Trek (the tv show) and Planet of the Apes (the first film). He also worked on The Outer Limits, The Munsters, Lost in Space and Mission Impossible (the tv show).

He won an Academy Award for his work on Planet of the Apes.

He was 78 when he died of a heart attack on August 25, 2001.

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