Cisco Bigs Profit From Shady Deals

Enron-type questions concerning the financial records of Cisco Systems, Inc. have suddenly got louder. 

Latest shocker: evidence that more than 12 top officials of the one-time Internet darling may have held undisclosed stakes in a Silicon Valley partnership that benefited greatly from its ties to Cisco during the 1990s. 

The news comes after The Post's disclosure earlier this week that Cisco's president and CEO, John Chambers, and the company's vice chairman, Donald Valentine, held stakes in a related investment partnership that made a 600 percent profit when Cisco acquired one of its companies, Monterey Networks, Inc., in the autumn of 1999. 

The partnership in which Valentine and Chambers were involved - Sequoia Capital Partners VII - was created and managed by Sequoia Capital, a West Coast venture capital fund that helped finance a number of technology companies in the 1990s. 

Previously, Cisco officials insisted that Chambers' stake in the fund was minimal and that his total profit in the transaction equaled the equivalent of roughly $10,000, which he donated to charity. 

Valentine held a larger stake in the partnership and appears to have thus netted a profit of roughly $313,000 in the deal. But a Cisco spokesman said Valentine did not participate in Cisco's decision to make the Monterey investment. 

Yet it now turns out that Chambers and Valentine were not the only top Cisco officials who held stakes in lucrative Sequoia partnerships that did deals with Cisco. 

What's more, in nearly all cases, the partnerships were undisclosed in Cisco filings, raising questions as to whether the company - and its officials - were trying to hide their involvement in the deals. 

The new evidence has come to light via a search of financial documents filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission by various companies with which Cisco has done business over the years. The search reveals that 11 other top Cisco officials, including the company's chairman, John P. Morgridge, also held stakes in certain Sequoia partnerships. 

In addition to Chambers, Morgridge and Valentine, the filings show that two other board members - Carol Ann Bartz, an outside director who currently serves as chief executive of an Internet company known as Autodesk, Inc., and Larry R. Carter, Cisco's chief financial officer, likewise held stakes in the partnerships. So did seven senior and executive level vice presidents, including two direct aides to the president and CEO, Chambers. 

At best, Cisco filings are replete with errors and inconsistencies on a whole range of questions concerning the partnership holdings of Cisco's top officials. 

Last week a company spokesman acknowledged that the stakes held by Chambers and Valentine have been misstated in Cisco proxy filings since at least 1999, and that even the actual Sequoia partnerships in which the two men held stakes had been identified incorrectly. 

"We disclosed all required financial information about the holdings of our officers and directors," said a Cisco spokesman. Yet the company declined to list the actual holdings of the individuals involved. 

A September, 1999 proxy filing by Cisco lists only Chambers, Valentine and Morgridge as holding stakes in Sequoia partnerships. 

But weeks later, another Silicon Valley company, PMC-Sierra, Inc., filed a stock registration statement that listed the owners of a Sequoia Partnership known as Sequoia International Technology Partners VIII as including the four Cisco board members and six other top Cisco officials. Ten months later, in September of 2000, Cisco filed a proxy statement showing that only Valentine held a stake in the partnership. 

A search of SEC documents indicates that as many as 12 of Cisco's more than 60 merger deals in the 1990s may have been funneled through Sequoia Capital partnerships. 

The deals in question had a price - mostly paid for in Cisco stock - of more than $7 billion. Since then, Cisco's share price has collapsed from a split-adjusted $80 per share to less than $17, wiping out more than $450 billion of market value to investors.