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Cisco's Giancarlo Steps Down

NEW YORK, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Cisco Systems' Chief Development Officer, Charles Giancarlo, widely seen as a top candidate for CEO, announced he was quitting the company on Thursday, leaving the race for leadership wide open.

Giancarlo, 50, said he would leave the network equipment maker at the end of the month and start working at private equity firm Silver Lake as a managing director in January. "It's been a very difficult decision for me to leave Cisco," Giancarlo told reporters on a conference call, reflecting on the past 14 years at the company, which is now the top maker of routers and other network equipment.

Giancarlo, who goes by "Charlie," said he made the decision with his next 10 years in mind.

His resignation comes after Mike Volpi, who was also seen as a potential successor to Chief Executive John Chambers, quit to join Internet video service Joost earlier this year. Volpi's departure was seen as clearing the way for Giancarlo to take on the top job.

Chambers said the company had plenty of talent left to ensure a smooth transition. The company also announced a management reorganization and said it would not replace the CDO position.

Giancarlo oversaw technology development for the overall company, including routing and switching, as well as digital video and other emerging technologies.

Earlier in his career, he led acquisitions and helped organize alliances with companies such as IBM and Microsoft.

NEXT CEO

Chambers said he would likely decide who would be the next CEO in around 3 years to 5 years. He denied the company was losing leadership talent, saying the CEO post would "most likely be filled from someone within."

Analysts have mentioned Robert Lloyd, who heads operations in the United States, Canada and Japan, and Richard Justice, in charge of worldwide sales, as possible CEO candidates.

JP Morgan analyst Ehud Gelblum said the next CEO was likely to come from the sales side and that Giancarlo, while highly capable, was not necessarily the heir-apparent.

"As far as next CEO, the natural progression is from sales, so Charlie was not really in that line, even though people outside of the company thought so," he said.

He has an "overweight" recommendation on the shares.

Cisco shares were little changed in after-hours trading, inching up to $28.30 each compared with the close at $28.28.