Cisco's famed 'spin-in' team departs, hinting at internal turmoil

A week after a management shakeup at Cisco, four key product development executives are resigning, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing an internal memo circulated by the company's CEO Chuck Robbins. Senior Vice Presidents Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani are departing in the wake of a reorganization that shifted all but Jiandani into adviser roles.

Exact reasons for their departure aren't known, but according to Robbins' memo there was a "disconnect regarding roles, responsibilities and charter" following the reorg announcement, the WSJ article said. All four will depart on June 17.

Senior VP David Goeckeler will take over the Insieme unit as part of his new role leading Cisco's Networking & Security Business Group.

Mazzola, Jain, Cafiero and Jiandani were colloquially known as the MPLS team, after the first initials of each of their names, and have been with Cisco since it acquired Crescendo Communications in 1993. The group ran a unit called Insieme Networks, and were best known for forming product-development startups that were initially funded, then acquired by Cisco, in a unique strategy it dubbed "spin-in." Three MPLS-led startups became crucial elements of Cisco's business, including Insieme, which created a new line of programmable switching systems and related software and currently generates $2 billion in revenue.

Former CEO John Chambers had championed this "spin-in" strategy. According to WSJ citing unnamed employees, the MPLS team appeared to get financial rewards and benefits that other product developers did not, "which hurt morale."

Whether the team's role and achievements were generating resentment is one thing, but their resignation in the wake of their reassignments hints at a larger internal power struggle going on within Cisco, according to Recode. "Robbins appears to have been blindsided by the resignations," wrote Recode's Arik Hesseldahl.

If so, Robbins gave no outward indication, saying in a statement that the MPLS team "will always be an important part of Cisco's engineering story. Their legacy will live on through our ongoing innovation and the talented engineering leaders they have mentored. I wish them the best."

The team's departure happened less than three months after another 18-year veteran of the company, Kelly Ahuja, resigned following the reorganization of the vendor's engineering division. Ahuja oversaw Cisco's service provider business.

Cisco shares were down about 8 cents in midday trading on the Nasdaq, at $29.02.

For more:
- see this WSJ article
- see this Recode article

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