How much blame should a CEO take, and how much should the company board?
SAN FRANCISCO -- Dave Bell fell on his sword this week at
long-suffering Intersil, resigning his post as CEO with the sound of
impatient Wall Street fingers tapping incessantly in the distance.
One Wall Street firm, Deutsche Bank, opined, "While we appreciate
the strategic changes Mr. Bell attempted at ISIL, we believe the
transformation of the company was simply taking too long and was too
punitive financially to revenue growth and profitability.
Consequently, we view this change as being necessary and a positive
as hopefully it reflects a sense of urgency at the Board level to
improve upon such metrics/execution."
It's a rare blotch on the career of a guy well respected in the
analog community, who joined Intersil after a fine dozen years with
But the situation raises a question we don't often grapple with in
our industry: Do we hold our boards of directors accountable enough?
Or conversely, do our CEOs tend to pack their boards with "their own
guys" to insulate themselves from harm? (Longtime Silicon Valley
engineers are right now flashing on Al Stein at VLSI Technology).
Let's look at the case at hand: Bell became Intersil CEO on Feb. 13,
2008, and had been president and COO before that. Of the nine
Intersil board members listed today, eight of them predate Bell's
arrival. Five of the seven have served on the board for
at least 10 years. Intersil stock has underperformed competitors
since 2008, and even before that was in the middle of the pack.
If you look at the last four years, fingers could clearly
point at Bell's leadership.
"I think that Intersil had been overextended for quite some time,"
said Steve Ohr, an analog semiconductor analyst with Gartner Group.
"Dave Bell had visions of making Intersil a billion-dollar company,
with acquisitions as well as organic growth. But if you buy another
company or another business, you want it to be accretive on Day One,
not next year or the year after that. Dave wound up fighting wars on
too many fronts."