Morphing MicronPC

Interview: Mike Adkins, CEO of the PC maker that is changing its name to MPC Computers, vows to prove the PC isn't dead.

MicronPC LLCs announcement in mid-December to change its name to MPC Computers by June is the latest step in the companys long journey back to its roots as a bona fide PC maker. After parent company Micron Electronics Inc. divested itself of the computer division in 2001 to focus on hosted services, executives within MicronPC hunkered down, determined to prove to their old bosses—who claimed the PC was dead—wrong. So far, so good. In October last year, the company, which counts on coveted government and education customers as key accounts and is now owned by Gores Technology Group, posted its fourth consecutive quarterly operating profit. eWeek Executive Editor/News Michael R. Zimmerman caught up with MicronPC President and CEO Mike Adkins recently to check on the companys progress and to see what the future holds for the Nampa, Idaho, PC maker.

eWeek: Is the PC dead?

Adkins: Absolutely not.

eWeek: And why not?

Adkins: Clearly, where weve positioned ourselves is that the hardware and services are both still extremely relevant in the technology industry today. And were about the box.

eWeek: Help me understand MicronPCs jumps in government business or jump in the reseller channel.

Adkins: Theres a couple things. One, in terms of what we have seen here in recent quarters, with our growth, I would say its definitely outpaced at least the market or at least what the market industry experts are saying is happening within North America anyway, from an overall growth standpoint. And so I think obviously what weve been able to do is [take] some share within the key segments. And thats definitely an important part of our strategy—as it is with anybody in a market thats slowing down or has slowed down—to look at opportunities where you can actually take share.

eWeek: And primarily who are you targeting? The obvious targets?

Adkins: Well, yeah, obviously. Were all going after each other, and theres just a handful of folks out there.

eWeek: Is it an easy conversation to have with customers? To say, Hey look, HP-Compaq—theyre busy right now. Heres what we can do for you right now.

Adkins: Yeah, definitely within our target segments its been a very easy conversation to have. ... Clearly, we went through a pretty messy transition. The transition itself wasnt messy; getting to the point of actually transitioning the company from a public company to a private company was messy. We lived the era of "the PC is dead"; we were in a position where we couldnt defend ourselves against the competition. We lost customers during that period. What were finding today is—and this is what weve always told people—they have an opportunity to be a big fish in a relatively small pond. Whereas when they go to one of our larger competitors, they typically become a statistic. So we are really differentiating ourselves on a personalized level of service that has typically been reserved for the very large corporations and pushing that down into the marketplace.

eWeek: Micron ships PCs with AMD and Intel chips, so youre not as rabid a loyalist as some other OEMs. But [AMDs]Clawhammer is different. There doesnt seem to be a great deal of support yet from OEMs. Will AMD catch a break with Micron?

Adkins: Theres actually a couple of different questions there. With respect to [whether] we [are] sensitive to alignment, I would say that first and foremost, we think competition is healthy. And clearly when you look at the lions share of our volume today, its on the Intel side. But at the same point in time, I feel like we would be doing our customers a disservice if we werent offering them a choice. And if the choice is between Intel and AMD, I dont want us deciding necessarily that thats the right thing for someone to do. Id rather have our customers tell us what to do. But again, we have relationships with both, of course, but our lions share is still Intel today. With respect to the technology itself, were going to rely pretty heavily on the technology developing toward receiving customer acceptance, and once that happens—when and if that happens—then clearly it would be something wed make available to our customers.

eWeek: But youre not going to come out and say, Were going to put it in a box as soon as its ready.

Adkins: Not necessarily. Most of what weve done with AMD of late has been on the Millennium side of the product line; we havent done anything with AMD on the ClientPro side.

eWeek: Are customers asking for 64-bit computing?

Adkins: In the space that were at today, yes, there are some asking about it more from a road map perspective, but certainly nobodys beating down the door today saying theyve got to have it.

eWeek: Do customers request Intel over AMD?

Adkins: By and large, people are still saying Intel today.

eWeek: Why is there this perception that going with AMD is going out on a limb?

Adkins: Because its the technology race. Basically you have a horse race going on right now. When you look at the segments that we participate in ... for our customers, they would love nothing more [than] the platform they buy today, theyd like to be able to buy that same platform a year from now. And because of whats happening from a technology standpoint, theyre finding themselves in a situation, and its very difficult to provide revision control to that degree that far out into the future.

eWeek: Are you talking 64-bit?

Adkins: Sixty-four-bit or just the CPU speed race. Nobodys beating on those guys, either one of them, to do what theyre doing. I think there is a tremendous marketing message for either one of them to take the platform of [fighting for] stability and manageability over the long term. And were not going to continue to force you to change your environment. But its a lot easier said than done.