In my years in business, I have never seen a new CEO make as many bad decisions as I have seen with Brian Krzanich at Intel. I have a hard time believing the stated reason that he was forced to leave Intel because of an affair inside the company, given that at least two of his predecessors had similar affairs and remained CEO. However, be that as it may, Intel’s board did the right thing and forced him out and put Intel’s CFO in as temporary CEO, generally considered a best practice for interim CEO but not a good choice for final CEO. CFOs just don’t have the operational and technical breadth to run a company long term, but they are very conservative by nature and are good at patching obvious problems and not creating new ones. The latter is the most important.
When this news was announced, I was set to talk about Intel’s scandal of the week, this time on Optane, but I’d rather talk about who the company should get as CEO. And it should get someone like AMD’s Lisa Su. Let me explain.
As noted above, Krzanich made a rather impressive number of mistakes during his tenure as CEO. These included upping his salary significantly while announcing massive layoffs, putting himself in an Intel funded TV show and then collapsing the related Intel efforts for makers when it predictably failed, supporting the wrong side in the misogynistic Gamergate scandal, collapsing IDF and most of the support for Intel’s existing chip business while chasing automotive and drone swarms, and abusively terminating a number of high-profile employees. Oh, and he hired a series of so-called high paid superstars and put them in charge of groups that likely wouldn’t follow them, and because these groups hadn’t themselves seen merit raises in some time, they would instead resent their new leaders.
Now Intel doesn’t deal with outsiders in general, so the successful CEO candidate should be either inside Intel or someone who recently left as part of what appeared to be a Krzanich-led purge of potential challengers.
At the top of my short list would be Diane Bryant, who is now COO at Google but recently left Intel as one of the most well-regarded executives in the company. She led the company’s impressively strong enterprise effort (Data Center Group) and was operational as a subject matter expert. Bryant has little chance of going from COO to CEO at Google, which also has a history of being misogynistic (it is working on this problem, however). She had 32 years at Intel and was ranked as one of the most successful top executives and likely should have been selected (particularly in hind sight) over Krzanich in the first place.
Bryant has been over at Google running the cloud effort, which should give her some interesting breadth for Intel’s future and, were she to come back to Intel, might form a foundation for a stronger partnership with Microsoft (which has also pivoted strongly to the cloud). One of the problems Intel has had for some time is an inability to work with one-time close partner Microsoft strategically; were that partnership fixed, it could be massively beneficial for both firms. (Currently, Microsoft and Apple are making moves away from Intel toward ARM.)
Wrapping Up: What the Board Must Look for in a CEO
Boards really need to think through who they choose as CEO. Generally, you need someone with both the skills and attitude for what is not only a very difficult job but a very different job from any other in the company. A CEO needs breadth over all aspects of a company, and that includes finance, sales, manufacturing, development, marketing and HR. The CEO also needs to be able to put the company first and not get overly involved in maximizing his or her own perks and compensation (both of which can prove to be huge distractions). Finally, the CEO can’t have a tendency to abuse power. Picking the right candidate is as much about personality as it is about any other aspect. Krzanich, right out of the box, because he had an obvious tendency to be abusive and overly focused on his own compensation, was a really bad choice. Let’s hope Intel’s board has learned from this and doesn’t repeat the mistake.
In the end, Intel’s board did the right thing by having Krzanich step down, but they still need to find a CEO that takes Intel forward. My hope is that they end up with someone like Diane Bryant.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+