FRANKLYWNOW - Best Times Are Ahead for W.Va., Chambers Says

Best Times Are Ahead for W.Va., Chambers Says

West Virginia has plenty of favorite sons, and John Chambers ranks high on the list. As president and CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., the Charleston native heads up the world's leading company in networking for the Internet. Since being named CEO in 1995, Chambers has grown the company from $1.2 billion to $23.8 billion in annual revenue. Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Cisco is a member of the S&P 500 and Fortune 500. As a corporate leader whose success is rooted in innovation and the ability to embrace change, Chambers was a fitting keynote speaker at the inaugural celebration of the Charleston Area Alliance held Feb. 25 at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. The Alliance is the development organization that was created last year after the Business and Industrial Development Corp., Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce and Charleston Renaissance Corp. agreed to merge. The new group has nearly 1,000 members, and many of them gathered at the Clay Center for the celebration. "John Chambers, we are so thrilled to welcome you back home," Gov. Joe Manchin said. The Alliance presented Chambers with the first-ever "Best of West Virginia" award. According to Richard Adams, chairman and CEO of United Bank, Chambers is "a great West Virginian, a great native son and a great, nationally recognized business leader." Working Together Chambers' presentation, "Leveraging the Internet for Innovation, Productivity and Growth," concentrated on four cornerstones -- education, infrastructure/broadband, innovation/productivity and supportive government. He said businesses and citizens must work together with their governments toward a common goal and have a willingness to make changes, "a willingness to dream, if you will." "I'm very proud to be a West Virginian. I'm very humbled that people came out tonight," he said. "We've got to be realistic about where we can and how quickly we need to change. Do we create an environment that really fosters innovation ... ?" Jobs go to states with the best-educated work forces, the strongest infrastructure, an environment that supports innovation and a supportive government, he said. The nation as a whole is not competing well in math and science, and work-force training efforts are not anticipating where job growth will be. Improving education and training must be a priority, he said. "We must train people for where the jobs are (and) create skills for where jobs will be, not where they were," Chambers said. "Change is something that's difficult for all of us to do," but creating an environment that looks at change can make any entity stronger, he said. Chambers cautioned that change must be made constructively. Simply throwing money into new technology will not help a business. Processes must change first, and then a company can enable those changes with technology. His philosophy has worked. In the technology industry, Chambers said, Cisco is the most successful company of all time with $17 billion in cash and investments and is No. 1 in terms of profitability per employee. Innovation, whether in education, business or government, is critical to success. Chambers said CEOs who participated in a global conference agreed "innovation probably moved at its fastest pace ever in the last five years, but the next five will be more challenging." And he is optimistic Americans will meet that challenge. "We learn more from our mistakes than our successes," he said. "The best times are still in front of us as a country and a state." Better Visit This Time? The last time Chambers made a high-profile public appearance in the Mountain State, he was West Virginia University's keynote speaker for its May 2001 commencement, which fell on Mother's Day. Chambers received such harsh coverage by a Charleston newspaper that local business leaders purchased a full-page advertisement apologizing to Chambers. WVU President David Hardesty publicly criticized the newspaper. Secretary of State Betty Ireland told The State Journal she remembered the 2001 events and made certain to attend Chambers' speech to the Alliance not only to thank him for remembering his roots but also to discuss technological applications for her office. "Without regard to how the local press treated him four years ago when he came to speak to the West Virginia University commencement on Mother's Day, John Chambers, three weeks after his mother died, graciously returned to his hometown and gave a brilliant and impassioned speech to West Virginia's business leaders," Ireland said. "I am so happy John Chambers has not turned his back on West Virginia." Ireland said Chambers invited her to discuss with him her ideas for using e-commerce to make West Virginia a more competitive place to do business. She said she is particularly interested in his thoughts on how technology can "enable businesses to have total paperless transactions with the Secretary of State's Office."

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