2021 is starting to be an exciting year. We’ve learned of one of the most significant cyberattacks in history, the US government was physically attacked, and now the impossible has happened, Pat Gelsinger has taken the top spot at Intel. Most of us, up until now, believed two things about Intel and Gelsinger. One, he was the best potential CEO for the company, and two, because of his treatment there and his position at Dell Technologies (CEO of VMware), he’d never take the job. But he has and my mind is blown.
Let’s talk about this change and why it’s good for Intel and personal technology in general.
Brian Krzanich To Bob Swan
Intel was in trouble. Brian Krzanich, arguably the worst CEO in that company’s history, had stripped the company down to a point where it couldn’t compete. He’d changed the culture of the company, which was already over-the-top harsh to one that was almost unlivable. He also started several initiatives — like pushing the company to take on the cell phone market and putting out a TV show with Krzanich in it — that were embarrassing. When he was let go, Intel was in dire straits.
Swan, the then CFO, stepped into the CEO slot and repaired much of the damage. CFO’s are good at corporate plumbing, and Intel’s plumbing was broken. Their biggest customers were feeling abandoned, Intel was falling years behind competitors, and Intel’s brand had suffered before Swan took the job. Swan repaired most of the critical parts. But he wasn’t an engineer, and to take Intel forward, the company needed an engineer to create a vision for its future.
Pat Gelsinger Arrives
I came to know Pat Gelsinger when he was in-line for the CEO job at Intel. Gelsinger was the executive who created the Intel Developer Forum, which kept Intel coupled to the market and affirmed its role as one of the two power players driving PCs and x86 servers. Gelsinger also drove PC design competitions in the company. In contrast to other Intel executives, he was seen as a compassionate executive who cared for his people more than he cared about his status — something scarce in the company during the last time he served there.
Gelsinger was set up. He was the executive in charge of a project to bring out an Intel GPU, a project so broken when he took it over that no one could have fixed it. I still believe he was put in that role to fail and be removed as a rival for the top spot. He left Intel, hired by Joe Tucci at EMC to be the number two executive there before Dell merged with the company. VMware, an EMC subsidiary at the time, was having execution problems when Gelsinger took the firm over. He was eventually recognized as the top-ranked CEO in the U.S., and one of the top CEOs of the decade, a title has been held by few, according to Glassdoor. This award cemented my belief at the time that to truly fix Intel’s culture, Gelsinger would be the perfect CEO.
The VMware posting was ironic because hypervisors, the product class that VMware dominated, were created to fix Intel’s problem. When they changed architectures, they often introduced incompatibilities with prior code, which created an industry nightmare. Using a hypervisor, you could remove those changes virtually and the old code would run on the new hardware without revising it. Gelsinger’s company at the time was focused on fixing a problem his old company had created. I’ve often thought it would make more sense for VMware to be part of Intel than part of Dell. VMware is reduced by being part of an OEM, but would be enhanced as part of a core PC architecture. In Dell’s defense, they recognized this and have always kept VMware at arm’s length from the rest of Dell’s businesses.
The Perfect Storm CEO
In 2018, I wrote that I believed that one person had the skill set to truly fix Intel, and that person was Pat Gelsinger. He had the passion, the engineering background, the Intel experience to understand the culture, and the compassion to fix it. Gelsinger was the one person with that perfect storm skill set of CEO responsibilities, insider knowledge, market knowledge, and love for his employees that could again turn Intel into the company Andy Grove envisioned when Gelsinger previously worked there.
If anyone can fix the Intel it is Pat Gelsinger. Getting him back to run Intel was thought to be impossible. Credit goes to Intel’s board for doing the impossible. 2021 was undoubtedly starting off to be pretty scary, but this CEO change suggests that this year is looking up, notably for Intel. While Bob Swan has done a fantastic job, Intel needs Pat Gelsinger to return it to where it needs to be.