Feb 1, 2024 - Business

Axios interview: Global economic chaos is new normal for CEOs, Chuck Robbins says

Photo illustration of Chuck Robbins with abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Cisco

Chief executives think global economic chaos is the new normal, Cisco chair and CEO Chuck Robbins, the new chair of the Business Roundtable, told Axios in an interview.

Why it matters: Robbins, 58, is corporate America's new ambassador in Washington. He's already gaming out the agenda for either another term of President Biden or a return of former President Trump.

What they're saying: "You have a group of CEOs that actually expect the next crisis will happen and we just deal with it. We don't overreact too much either way," Robbins said.

  • "There's a generation of CEOs, with everything going on, that probably would have said, 'We're just going to pause everything until things get back to normal,'" Robbins said. But "we think this is normal."

Comfort with uncertainty may help keep the economy humming.

  • "Most CEOs know that if they pause investment for an extended length of time, with the rapid evolution of some of these technologies, they can be completely left behind in no time," Robbins said.

The big picture: Robbins, who lives in Atlanta, has led technology giant Cisco for nine years — a role that puts him before top Washington policymakers often. Now he'll advocate for a much broader set of interests in those meetings.

  • "I'm representing a whole bunch of people, and I need to make sure that I do that responsibly and well," he said.

The intrigue: Robbins — a numbers guy who has a math degree with a computer science concentration — said the BRT's top priorities will shift depending on which administration is in the White House.

  • A second-term Biden administration might mean more focus on industry investment, reminiscent of legislation like the CHIPS Act.
  • For a hypothetical second Trump administration: tax reform and deregulation.
  • Either way: Restoring Trump-era business tax breaks for research and development; artificial intelligence; and immigration.

The bottom line: More Americans say they trust their employers than say they trust elected officials.

  • "We get caught up with the fringes dominating the noise," Robbins said. Most people, though, "realize strong companies in the United States do great things for this country."

Asked about his leadership style, Robbins said: "I am super-transparent, a super-simple communicator. ... I don't overcomplicate things. I'm not smart enough."

  • His next fun thing: Fly-fishing for bonefish in the Bahamas.
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