It sounds like everyone will be calling him “Bob,” but whether he goes by Bob, Robert, or Mr. Swan, Intel’s new CEO starts today. The company tapped Robert Swan to be interim CEO seven months ago, and he’s apparently done enough to make the board feel confident in his appointment as the permanent chief. Swan has been in the business for a long time, serving primarily in finance roles and as a C-level executive. He climbed fast at Intel, joining just in 2016 as the Chief Financial Officer. By mid-2018, he was interim CEO.
Everyone at Intel seems to be feeling outstanding about the whole situation. The word appears a lot in Intel’s press release, in which the company offered praise for the “outstanding job Bob did as interim CEO [...] as reflected in Intel’s outstanding results in 2018.” In his own statement in the release, Swan said, “This is an exciting time for Intel: 2018 was an outstanding year and we are in the midst of transforming the company to pursue our biggest market opportunity ever.”
But Swan is not inheriting an easy situation. His predecessor’s tenure ended dramatically when now-former CEO Brian Krzanich found himself facing controversies including the Spectre/Meltdown fiasco and, finally, the revelation of a long-time affair with an Intel employee. Recovering morale is a small issue, though, compared to the market challenges Intel is facing. The company’s struggles with its 10-nm process are well known. Its spate of 10-nm announcements recently at CES show promise on that front, but Swan has the unenviable task of cashing that big check. This is to say nothing of a surging AMD, which re-emerged as a legitimate CPU threat with the launch of its Ryzen chips in 2017 and has been trucking along ever since.
But the PC part of business, it seems, is a small part. This telling statement from the press release says a lot: “As Intel continues to transform its business to capture more of a large and expanding opportunity that includes the data center, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving, while continuing to get value from the PC business, the board concluded after a thorough search that Bob is the right leader to drive Intel into its next era of growth.”
In Swan’s letter to Intel employees (published on Intel’s news site), he reiterates the above, flatly stating: “We are evolving from a PC-centric to a data-centric company,” which is a line Intel has delivered before. He says little else of note in the letter—mostly platitudes about leadership and being bold and culture that results in a “One Intel” mindset.
For better or worse, the Swan era has begun. And Intel needs to find a new CFO.