This week the semiconductor industry saw two high profile pieces of career news; Anand Chandrasekher (former senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group) was hired by Qualcomm as chief marketing officer, and John Byrne was promoted to chief sales officer at AMD.
I found both moves odd for a variety of reasons.
First, let me address why I think hiring Chandrasekher as CMO makes absolutely no sense for Qualcomm.
Chandrasekher left Intel in disgrace. For over three years he had been given all of Intel's assets with one goal in mind; to develop a viable chip for smartphones and to get customer traction. He wasn’t able to pull that off.
Menlo and then its follow-up Moorestown both had major execution issues and fell flat on their face.
Inside Intel, Chandrasekher was seen as a showman - constantly making promises he couldn’t keep and showing off designs that would never see the light of day with customers. The LG phone hyped and slidewared at CES a few years ago was a prime example of just that.
Chandrasekher was also one of the key figures in Intel’s Nokia/MeeGo debacle- a relationship where Intel invested much and gained little only to be left at the altar two years ago at MWC.
But, no sooner was Chandrasekher unceremoniously outed from Intel, things took a turn for the better. Mike Bell and Dave Whalen took Chandrasekher’s place, and in just nine months, the company managed to build a fully functional reference design smartphone. Not only that, but the design went on to score multiple design wins almost immediately, including a major European carrier (Orange) and deals across India and China.
So, what exactly does Qualcomm think it is getting in Chandrasekher? His track record shows him to be a guy who ran marketing but who couldn't bring to market a viable product to compete with any of the ARM partners over a three year period with unlimited resources at Intel.
True, one could argue that with a long career at Intel and with involvement in Centrino, Chandrasekher knows the PC market, but how critical are these skills to a company that will only begin to dabble in the computing space with Windows 8? It’s puzzling to say the very least.
Perhaps Qualcomm’s logic in hiring Chandrasekher was the thought he would be so eager for redemption after being let go by Intel that he would do anything to get back at his previous employer and prove them wrong. That option can’t be ruled out, and people should be given second chances, but from where I’m sitting, this looks like Qualcomm took a really sloppy second from Intel.
Next, let’s examine AMD’s choice of John Byrne for head of sales. This is also an odd personnel choice, given AMD's relative lack of sales success over recent years. Byrne has been in sales at AMD/ATI for donkey’s years. Why would the company not look for new blood instead of promoting old guard?
When Rory Read took over as CEO, he gutted virtually every other position of prominence in the company, and yet Byrne not only survived the purge, but now seemingly thrives.
Byrne originally started his association with AMD selling discrete graphics at an ATI subsidiary by the name of Advanced 3D, based in the UK.
He then moved on to more senior roles in ATI sales and then AMD Europe before moving to North America to manage global sales.
While savvy and well respected in the channel, Byrne's experience with MNC OEMs is on the lighter side, and, under his tenure, AMD has failed to take any significant market share in graphics, CPUs or chipsets.
That’s why, to me, Byrne's promotion and ascent defies conventional logic, but as with all executive moves at troubled companies there is always more than meets the eye.