There are a handful of companies that I know very well. Intel is one of them, and, for some time, their biggest problem was a culture that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. For instance, when I interviewed there, I turned the interviewing manager in for abuse. (I have extraordinarily little tolerance for abusive people).
But there was one guy I met at Intel early on that seemed to have the passion, the focus, and the attitude needed to turn Intel around, and that was Pat Gelsinger. It didn’t seem very likely, given how he was treated there, that he would ever be CEO. But if there was ever an example of a miracle, it was here, because Gelsinger was hired as CEO of Intel a few months back (replacing respected company veteran Bob Swan) and hit the ground running.
This week Pat had his initial Vision Presentation, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. He spoke of a new Intel, one that could both collaborate and compete, that could step up to the challenge of not only its competitive issues but help the nation out of its massive microprocessor problem. Let’s talk about some of the highlights.
IDF is coming back smaller and better
When he was at Intel earlier in his career, one of Pat’s most impressive works was creating IDF (Intel Developer Forum). This forum was one of Intel’s greatest assets. Strategically it both helped establish their market dominance and assured they could maintain it. Getting rid of IDF was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen a company do. The loss of the IDF contributed significantly to Intel’s leadership erosion in the market and significantly.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Intel is bringing IDF back under a new name IntelON. Now, this might not have worked had there not been a Pandemic because, once you lose an event time, you typically lose your access to the necessary event resources. But thanks to the Pandemic, those resources were freed up. IntelON will also be a more minor, more focused event, IDF got a little overblown, and it had lost its way towards the end. IntelON, as a more focused effort, should also be more effective. Leave it up to IDF’s father to both bring it back and create a potentially better event.
Fixing Intel’s culture
If one person in the world knows Intel’s culture well and how to fix it, that person is Pat Gelsinger. Fixing a company culture isn’t easy, and Pat’s predecessor, Bob Swan, was making progress before he stepped out. But to create lasting change, you need someone that will make it his or her top priority, and given it is that culture that forced Pat out of Intel, I doubt there is anyone on the planet at his level with more personal drive focused on this issue.
Intel also has a history of top executives who have had mistresses or have had in-company affairs, and these things are incredibly damaging to a company. If there is one thing I know for sure about Pat, he’d never do that; it wouldn’t even occur to him. He is a poster child for CEOs who treat women employees as they should be treated and don’t think of their firm as a fishing hole for illicit dates. It is one of the things I admire about Pat; he takes his marriage and the rules concerning fraternization seriously.
The only way to create a safe place for minorities is to have a CEO talk the talk but religiously walks the walk, and that’s Pat. If anyone can turn around Intel’s nasty culture, it is Pat Gelsinger.
Fixing the U.S. microprocessor problem
The PC market was primarily created by three companies IBM, Intel, and Microsoft. The Band is getting back together, and both Microsoft and IBM’s CEOs were part of this presentation as Intel’s partners. The U.S. has a huge problem; once a leader in microprocessor technology and manufacturing, much of that capability has moved to Asia. As a result, we are no longer a priority, and even U.S. automobile lines are being shut down due to a lack of parts.
Now I’d argue that you’d need more than just Intel, IBM, and Microsoft; you’d also need Qualcomm, the technology leader in the smartphone space. Interestingly, while Qualcomm’s CEO wasn’t part of this event, its brand was along with a number of other companies that, together, should turn around the U.S. decline in the market. While Intel has never been very good at blending collaboration and competition, IBM, Microsoft, and Qualcomm all have excellent skills here. All of them would be interested in restoring U.S. market power to the segment.
Separately all four companies are powerhouses; together, there is very little they couldn’t do.
Wrapping up: Pat Gelsinger’s Intel
It typically takes three to five years for a new CEO to put his/her stamp on a company. Much of that time is spent figuring out where the bodies are buried, building up support structures and assuring command and control. With Gelsinger, given his background, much of this is already done. In weeks, he has done what typically takes years, and now he acts like he has been on the job for some time. This speed advantage is critical not just for Intel’s future but also for the US’s future in technology.
If Intel can drive not only its new fabs in Arizona but the U.S.-funded Super-Fab, it, along with its partners, have an excellent chance of returning the U.S. to its leadership position. Intel can’t do it alone, and they aren’t; partnered with companies like IBM, Microsoft and Qualcomm, there is little they can’t do.