Padmasree Warrior, one of a number of top executives at Cisco Systems who left the company earlier this year when Chuck Robbins was tapped to replace John Chambers as CEO of the network giant, will head up the U.S. operations of a new Chinese electric car company that looks to compete with Tesla.
The announcement of Warrior as CEO of the U.S. division of NextEV was made this week, about six months after it was reported that she was leaving Cisco after seven years with the company. Warrior had risen to CTO by the time she left Cisco and was considered a candidate to replace Chambers, who had been Cisco's CEO for 20 years.
She also will be chief development officer for the Chinese startup.
Robbins was named CEO of Cisco in May and took over the position in July. Since then, a number of executives have left the company. For example, both presidents Rob Lloyd and Gary Moore exited within weeks of the announcement regarding Robbins, and Lloyd was named the first CEO of Elon Musk's Hyperloop Technologies, a new transportation company.
NextEV is based in Shanghai and has design centers in Beijing, Munich, Hong Kong and London. It also reportedly has an 85,000-square-foot research site in San Jose, Calif. It has raised about $500 million in funding from such investors as Sequoia Ventures and Tencent Holdings, and has voiced plans to roll out a car sometime next year.
NextEV was founded in 2014 by William Li, who is chairman of Bitauto Holdings, a car-pricing portal based in China. The company is looking to compete with Musk's Tesla business, which currently is the dominant player in the electric car industry.
In a video interview with Bloomberg, Warrior, 55, said she was wanted a new challenge after leaving Cisco, and "was looking at global problems that are big issues that technology can solve."
She said the car industry is going through an inflection point, not only from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles but also how companies deal with customers. Regarding competing with Tesla, Warrior said she has a lot of respect for Musk, calling him a pioneer and thought leader. "He's had big ideas," she said. "He's an inspiration."
However, while the Tesla cars—one of which she owns—are good for places like California, with its temperate climate, many other places in the world have to deal with harsher environments and congested roads, Warrior said. NextEV is looking to address the needs of people everywhere in the world. The initial focus will be China, with the goal of going worldwide.
"Beyond China, there's a global market out there with similar problems and similar issues," she said. "So I think the market is big. In the automotive industry, there's never one-player-takes-all."