In a unique agreement that will provide West Virginia University significant financial and intellectual resources, Silicon Valley visionary John Chambers announced Friday a gift of time, talent and treasure to support a recently announced start-up engine at the College of Business and Economics.
“I’ve always believed in the power of education, but we need to reinvent our schools for a new, digital era. I’m betting on the Mountaineers and believe my home state can become a startup state if the university, business and public sectors come together to support transformative innovation,” said Chambers, former CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems Inc., and founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, a native of Charleston and a two-time WVU alumnus. The start-up engine will support business development, innovation and investment in West Virginia.
The college will be renamed the John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
“This is a momentous occasion for West Virginia University and for the state of West Virginia,” WVU President Gordon Gee said to several hundred people gathered at the Erickson Alumni Center including two U.S. Senators and numerous state and community leaders. “John is a proven leader who is comfortable dreaming big and taking risks. Those are the same attributes that define who we are as a university. We have the incredible opportunity to make effective change by becoming a start-up University. I am grateful to John for his commitment, his partnership and his friendship.”
In addition to his current responsibilities, B&E Dean Javier Reyes will lead the initiative as vice president for Start-up West Virginia, coordinating efforts across the University that contribute to the state’s innovation economy. A nationally-recognized expert in global economic matters, he will position the University to both engage with coordinated statewide efforts and to affect implementation and impact.
Reyes also will work collaboratively with the leaders of West Virginia Forward, the state Department of Commerce, the National Guard and the governor’s office to grow and diversify West Virginia’s economy.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” Reyes said. “John Chambers is personally investing his talent and resources to transform how we think, how we work and how we improve our economy. He is helping us define our identity as college and a university that will be invested in the digital age and we will lead with a startup mindset in the heartland of America. I am humbled to work alongside John, and many others across the institution and the state, to develop meaningful change.”
Chambers’ gift will include financial support to:
• Build out and operate the start-up engine.
• Create a philanthropic venture capital fund in support of the project.
• Create a Center for Artificial Intelligence Management to explore AI’s opportunities and challenges.
• Establish a fund to support the creation of the Center for AI Management.
Chambers, 69, will also volunteer 5 percent of his time to provide expertise to WVU and its leadership, a similar arrangement to ones he has with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“While recognized as a global leader for his business acumen for many years, John Chambers has never forgotten his West Virginia roots,” said B.J. Davisson, executive vice president and chief development officer for the WVU Foundation. “The impact of this transformational partnership will be felt not only across West Virginia, but in fact, the world as the College of Business and Economics works to support entrepreneurship and innovation in business learning on the global stage. Having John as an advisor will provide a huge boost to this effort. On behalf of the entire Foundation team, I extend my sincere thanks to John and his family for their continued generosity, leadership and support.”
Chambers has written about his belief that the United States needs to create an entrepreneurial culture in his book, Connecting the Dots: Lessons for Leadership in a Startup World, published in September 2018.
“As an investor and advisor to start-ups worldwide, I’m incredibly excited by the potential for new technologies to foster longer lives, safer communities and greater global prosperity, as well as to create hundreds of millions of new jobs,” Chambers says in the introduction. However, he notes that “this disruption will be so brutal that 40-plus percent of businesses today won’t be here 10 years from now.”
In the book, Chambers anticipates his work with the University and the state, writing, “If we come together to invest in start-ups, innovations, skills training and digitization, there’s no reason why West Virginia can’t rise again […] The key to this will be strong leadership from the public and private sectors and from educational institutions like West Virginia University, where I am sharing my time, money and ideas to help develop the programs, partnerships and people we need to nurture a start-up culture.”
Chambers served as CEO, chairman and executive chairman during a quarter century at Cisco Systems, helping the company expand from $70 million in 1991 to $47 billion when he stepped down as CEO in 2015. Over the course of two decades, Chambers led Cisco in acquiring 180 companies, building it into a company with more than 70,000 employees.
As executive chairman, a position Chambers held until December 2017, he led the board of directors and counseled the CEO and leadership team on strategy, digital transformation and strategic partnerships. He also spearheaded the creation and development of Cisco’s country digitization program, where he partnered with government leaders across the world to harness the power of technology to create economic opportunities.
He is now the founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, a purpose-driven venture capital firm focused on helping disruptive start-ups from around the world build and scale, while also promoting the broader development of start-up nations and a start-up world. He invests in companies across categories and geographies that are leading market transitions, such as Aspire Food Group, Balbix, Bloom Energy, Dedrone, IoTium, Lucideus, OpenGov, Pindrop, Privoro, Rubrik, SparkCognition, Sprinklr, and Uniphore. He also serves on the boards for Bloom Energy, OpenGov, Pindrop and Sprinklr.
Chambers is focused on promoting entrepreneurship, gender equality, and accelerating overall new business creation around the world, as he believes that start-ups will be the core driver of job creation, economic growth and inclusion in the Digital Age.
Chambers has received numerous awards for his leadership, including being named the number two “Best-Performing CEOs in the World” in 2015 from Harvard Business Review and receiving the Edison Achievement Award for Innovation. Chambers was most recently awarded the Outstanding Civil Service Medal by the U.S. Army, as well as France’s National Defense Gold Medal, the only foreign business leader to ever receive the award in its 35-year history.
Chambers was also named one of Barron’s’ “World’s Best CEOs,” “CEO of the Year” by Chief Executive Magazine, Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” the “Best Boss in America” by 20/20, one of BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 Executives Worldwide,” the Business Council’s “Award for Corporate Leadership,” “Best Investor Relations by a CEO” from Investor Relations Magazine three times, and the 2012 Bower Award for Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute.
He has been widely recognized for his philanthropic leadership, including receiving the U.S. State Department’s top corporate social responsibility award twice, from both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010 and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005. He also received the first-ever Clinton Global Citizen Award from former U.S. President Bill Clinton and has been awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship and the prestigious Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy Award, an award given by CEOs to their CEO peers. Chambers is also a member of the Woodburn Circle Society, the WVU Foundation’s most prestigious philanthropic society.
Chambers takes an active role in corporate social responsibility initiatives worldwide. His partnerships have included working with the Palestinian ICT sector, growing ICT from 0.8 percent to more than 5 percent of GDP in three years, and Connecting Sichuan, an effort to help rebuild healthcare and education models affected by the May 2008 earthquake. Chambers also co-sponsored the Jordan Education Initiative by partnering with the Jordanian government and co-led a delegation of U.S. business leaders, with the U.S. State Department, to form the Partnership for Lebanon.
He holds a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts degree in business and a law degree from West Virginia University, as well as a Master of Business Administration degree in finance and management from Indiana University.