Intel's top-level management changes have come with a twist; one that puts few issues to rest, but at least it is something different.
As expected Intel has announced its next CEO with effect from May 16 and – as some observers feared – the company has stuck to its tradition of promoting an internal candidate. But the company has done so with a difference promoting an experienced female executive to second-in-command. One could call it a yin-yang management position but whatever it is called it raises numerous questions and puts few issues to rest.
Brian Krzanich, Intel's next CEO, is a manufacturing person through and through. Trained as a chemist he joined Intel in 1982 after graduating from San Jose State University. Back in the day Krzanich was responsible for implementing 0.130-micron logic process technology across Intel's global factory network and during his rise within Intel he has managed several of Intel's wafer fabs.
For some this will be an encouraging return to engineering roots. Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove, Intel's first three CEOs were entrepreneurial engineers. Craig Barrett, although science trained was often characterized as a manager, and Paul Otellini was drawn from the sales and marketing side.
To balance Brian Krzanich's manufacturing and operations background Intel has also promoted Renee James, presently general manager of its software and services group, to the position of company president. And so Intel has chosen is to create a yin-yang executive office occupied by two leaders that encapsulate the dualities; male-female; hardware-software; and, dare we say it, Intel's present and future.
However, the approach raises several concerns.
The move will not please some observers who feel that Intel, while still the largest vendor of integrated circuits in the world, missed the mobile device revolution and developed an over-reliance on selling microprocessors into a notebook computer market that is now flat.
For many of those observers an external executive was necessary to lead Intel – someone without the Intel cultural baggage; someone who could come in and shake things up. The example most often pointed to is the biscuit guy, Lou Gerstner of Nabisco, who came into IBM and changed it, albeit over a long period, from the quintessential big-iron company into an IT services and a consultancy company.
Some observers have also expressed dismay that with the bypassing of Dadi Perlmutter, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, for the top job there is little or no product design experience at the top of company and that could be manifested as an inability to develop x86 or breakthrough architectures.