Intel flutters into the Robert Swan era, makes interim CEO permanent

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.

Comments closed
    • Anonymous Coward
    • 9 months ago

    Love that about “while continuing to get value from the PC business”, a polite way of saying “afterthought” and “milk it”.

    Despite the margins in the server space, I’m surprised that PC’s are 2nd class citizens these days. I’d think the PC market was big enough for it to be a priority.

    • Waco
    • 9 months ago

    I think if Intel buys out Mellanox I’m going to stab someone. Perhaps myself.

      • chuckula
      • 9 months ago

      Here’s our [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7hsVa18yfA<]corporate-approved response[/url<] direct from PR.

      • DavidC1
      • 9 months ago

      I dislike corporate acquisitions. Mega corporations resort to acquisitions because they are no longer capable of innovation within. Mega corporations reduce diversity within the ecosystem and economy and increase risks.

      Most acquisitions also tend to be a failure and benefits company less than the cost of the acquisition. Sure, the share price goes up, but only because revenue of the two companies add together.

      • NovusBogus
      • 9 months ago

      It’s my understanding that Mellanox’s biggest investor is Oracle, so if Intel bought them out it’s highly improbable that the result will wind up being any more evil/stupid than the status quo. Because Oracle.

        • Waco
        • 9 months ago

        I wish I could believe that. Both Oracle and Intel are companies I’ve long learned to avoid if possible when it comes to “friendliness” to my work.

    • ronch
    • 9 months ago

    I had a very remote gut feeling that Bobby will end up with the CEO position eventually, unless he really screws up with his interim CEO stint.

    Gotta admit though, he looks more like a cheery marketing guy than a bean counter.

    • Wirko
    • 9 months ago

    Here’s hoping that a new Swan’s Law of econo-physics soon displaces the current Law of Brian: “Every 24 months, we add a plus.”

    • blastdoor
    • 9 months ago

    In related news: [url<]https://www.anandtech.com/show/13924/intel-to-discontinue-itanium-9700-kittson-processor-the-last-itaniums[/url<] Itanic's greatest success was in scaring all of the workstation RISC guys to fall on their swords. AMD's greatest success was to point out that the emperor had no clothes.

      • chuckula
      • 9 months ago

      Apple ARM miracle chip….. [b<]NOT CONFIRMED![/b<] Because it's 2019: Apple ARM miracle [i<]chiplets[/i<].... CONFIRMED!

      • tipoo
      • 9 months ago

      What’s crazy is that Itanium was still easily more revenue as a failing project than the entirety of AMD. Makes their turnaround more incredible.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 9 months ago

      I don’t know why, but I really wanted Itanium to succeed. I think it is because no one else is willing to step out here and make something not backwards compatible anymore to the detriment of th industry. Sometimes the baggage of legacy is burdensome.

        • DavidC1
        • 9 months ago

        There’s nothing wrong with backwards compatibility. Computers are tools used to serve us. You do too many big changes and you risk inconveniencing the less knowledgeable users. When MS made Windows Vista, we started noticing compatibility issues with some programs for the first year or two. If changing an operating system within an ISA with the exact same hardware caused potential headaches, imagine trying to move to a totally new ecosystem!

        There’s a saying that a new product needs an order of magnitude advantage(for those that are confused, that’s 10x) to even start entering the encroached ecosystem. No new architecture or ISA goes even remotely near this.

          • Klimax
          • 9 months ago

          There were always compatibility issues. DOS->Windows 95*, Windows 9x->Windows XP and so on.

          No matter how hard you try, there will be atrocious coders and other hyper-inteligent beings who will have stellar ideas.

          * [url<]http://www.informit.com/content/images/9780321440303/samplechapter/Chen_bonus_ch01.pdf[/url<] (Raymond Chen's bonus chapter for his book)

          • blastdoor
          • 9 months ago

          It’s all about appropriately balancing competing priorities. Backwards compatibility clearly has value. Improving functionality (performance, efficiency, UI/UX) also clearly has value.

          Companies vary in how they balance these tradeoffs. That variation can be a function of their culture/values, but probably even more so it’s a function of their market position. When you have a 90% marketshare, you’re inclined to think backwards compatibility is a big deal.

        • K-L-Waster
        • 9 months ago

        Moving to something new and incompatible just because it’s new is pointless.

        Moving to something new *that provides performance and capabilities that the old can never deliver* makes sense.

        Itanium sadly fell into the first category.

      • jarder
      • 9 months ago

      After Quark, any bets on what the next intel technology to be end-of-lifed will be?

      My money is on Xeon Phi, it’s never got much traction in the face of superior competition from Nvidia, and they’ll be able to spin it’s passing as a good news story… “Look at how good our new GPUs are, they’re so good we had to retire the Xeon-phi”, or some such message.

        • DavidC1
        • 9 months ago

        Yes, the next is indeed Xeon Phi. The roadmaps show the successor to current Xeon Phi parts is Cascade Lake-AP, the humongous chip with 2 Cascade Lake-SP dies(and supposedly a third I/O die), using a BGA package.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 9 months ago

      I think most of the RISC guys were going down regardless of what instruction set was involved. Everyone loved Alpha of course, but market presence seems to be more important than actually having the best product. (Look at Intel before Nehalem.)

      Certainly I’ll support the claim that its AMD that holds the mirror up to Intel, with maybe IBM sort of on occasion appearing on the scene, and ARM running around yipping like a tiny dog.

      (Incidentally, I actually use ARM powered servers on AWS. They’re fine, but at this point nothing terribly compelling.)

      • freebird
      • 9 months ago

      But if the DEC Alpha 21×64 didn’t get scared out of existence by the Itanium (Itanic) then maybe Dirk Myers (along with Jim Keller) doesn’t wind up at AMD helping to develop the Athlon 64.

      Cool video from youtube timewarp…
      [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klg1FtHADso[/url<] So is Intel responsible for their own downfall via Itanic? The chip that "sunk" Intel???

    • tipoo
    • 9 months ago

    Hmm, markets aren’t taking this as well as I thought.

    While he was interim, there have been over $18B in fab investment commitments, huge increases to R&D, re-org of TMG, and now rumors of a Mellanox acquisition.

    Ah well. Buy in opportunity.

    • cmrcmk
    • 9 months ago

    Best of luck to him! He’s taking on a difficult time in Intel’s history though if you believe [url=https://www.anandtech.com/show/13405/intel-10nm-cannon-lake-and-core-i3-8121u-deep-dive-review<]Anandtech's[/url<] throwing another wet blanket on Intel's 10 nm work and [url=https://www.servethehome.com/a-product-perspective-on-an-intel-bid-for-mellanox/<]ServeTheHome's[/url<] analysis of Intel's purported Mellanox acquisition turning into a lament on how Intel's datacenter networking products are failing in the market.

    • DavidC1
    • 9 months ago

    It’s hard to say how he’ll do, but so far it doesn’t seem so bad. After Brian Kraznich got ousted and Bob took over as interim CEO, they opened up and also increased investments. Reading some articles about him and said the employees see him as a capable leader.

    So while its preferable that the CEO be technically inclined in addition to being sane, a marketing/finance CEO can run it decently.

    Craig Barrett had a PhD in materials engineering and BK was a process engineer. Craig wasn’t an outstanding CEO, but wasn’t crazy.

    Paul Otellini had a business/marketing background. The core business was run quite ok.

      • K-L-Waster
      • 9 months ago

      Plus it’s not like the CEO is personally taping out circuit traces.

      • kuraegomon
      • 9 months ago

      A financial leader can be a capable head of a technology company if (and only if) she or he recognizes that enabling R&D wins and translating them to (profitable, of course) market share is the essential core competency of the company. If that leader instead takes a “penny-wise, pound-foolish” approach to the financial management of the company that prioritizes short-term profits over a sustainable R&D-to-delivery pipeline, then failure is inevitable.

      I suspect that this appointment was confirmed precisely because the engineering faction at Intel said: “OK, good enough so far – he’s not a [i<]total[/i<] finance weenie".

        • DavidC1
        • 9 months ago

        That may be good enough considering innovators are very uncommon. If they were common, they would no longer be innovators.

        It’s unrealistic to expect him to be like Andy Grove, or many other examples that drove such companies to be successful. And maybe, just maybe such innovators that are highly regarded only happened to be in the right place at the right time, and may not be as special as we think them to be.

        If Mr. Swan is sane, is capable of listening to criticism and takes advice from engineers, at least they’ll improve execution in their core competency. That’s really how Paul Otellini was. Otellini did not have the vision to listen to Steve Jobs and thus his biggest failure was getting on board the biggest tech trends of the modern era, but they were decent on PC.

        Then again, Otellini-level is acceptable. Just because Andy Grove and Steve Jobs don’t grow on trees.

    • meerkt
    • 9 months ago

    A random thought…

    [quote<]calling him “Bob,”[/quote<] Punctuation marks inside quotes when the marks belong to the outer level makes no sense. No? (With all due respect to Chicago MoS and Strunk & White.)

      • stdRaichu
      • 9 months ago

      Normally I’d agree with you but his name is actually “Robert’); DROP TABLE Students;”

        • meerkt
        • 9 months ago

        You mean “Bob,’); DROP TABLE CEOs;”.

          • Redocbew
          • 9 months ago

          That’s one way to make it to the top.

    • chuckula
    • 9 months ago

    This selection reminds me of Rory Read in many ways.

    As long as the technical people at Intel actually get the authority they need to execute products it’s not totally necessary to have an engineer as a CEO, but what you don’t want is interference from that non-technical CEO. (See Dirk Meyer as a counter-example where an engineer CEO can also get it wrong)

    The good news is that since Swan took over as interim CEO we’ve seen a whole lot more openness and disclosure of information from Intel with Raj in particular showing a lot of initiative. As long as that is a long term trend and not merely a blip because of a power vacuum at Intel, then maybe Swan can lead the company in a good direction.

    Even if he doesn’t wear the leather jacket on stage.

      • Eversor
      • 9 months ago

      I don’t particularly remember Dirk making bad decisions, and execution was reasonable during his tenure. He also inherited a pretty big disaster from Ruiz. One can argue that Bulldozer was his doing though, but aren’t architecture revamps planned 5 years in advance?

      I was preparing to write how execution was a disaster until Rory Read left (which it was) but it seems during his tenure, someone had the insight to hire Jim Keller. Though “someone” also had the brilliant idea of moving on to designing A57 based ARM SoCs and wasting time on a K12 ARM design. Meh.

      • NovusBogus
      • 9 months ago

      Hopefully it continues, yes, but my experience in these things is that it was almost certainly driven by the power vacuum and the corporate posturing that inevitably results from it.

    • K-L-Waster
    • 9 months ago

    So if they take “We are evolving from a PC-centric to a data-centric company,” to its logical conclusion, will we see the usual suspects panicking and saying “but we need competition!”

    (My money is on “No”…)

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 months ago

    New 7nm architecture: Swan Lake.

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 months ago

      xEightyTutu

      • freebird
      • 9 months ago

      Ice Lake XT (Extremely Thin)

      • LoneWolf15
      • 8 months ago

      Swan Song

    • K-L-Waster
    • 9 months ago

    Let the bird-brained strategy commence.

      • chuckula
      • 9 months ago

      GPU project codename: Ugly Duckling

        • Concupiscence
        • 9 months ago

        An unexpected success, Ugly Duckling goads Intel to pivot to a more aggressive marketing strategy and new color scheme, and no one would question the explosive capabilities of its successor, Duck à l’Orange.

      • Eversor
      • 9 months ago

      The word you’re looking for is “data”.

    • Concupiscence
    • 9 months ago

    Placing bets that a future Intel chip’s gonna be called Swan Lake…

    • Krogoth
    • 9 months ago

    Long live the CEO!

    It is time to use anti-glue against the dreaded AMD alliance!

      • chuckula
      • 9 months ago

      Nail polish remover .. I choose YOU!!

      Acetone! Acetone!

    • chuckula
    • 9 months ago

    It was good shilling while it lasted.

    Too bad Intel is about to sing its Swan song though.

    #NoChipletsNoBidnazz

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