At Intel, manufacturing matters. So it’s no surprise that the company rewarded Brian Krzanich, its chief operating officer, with the CEO slot.
Naming Krzanich as Intel’s next chief executive settles the matter of succession within Intel’s CEO ranks, and also cements the company’s track record of promoting from within. Some had wondered whether Intel’s board would bring back Pat Gelsinger, its former chief technology officer, whom some believed left Intel (to head up VMware) when it became obvious he wasn’t going to land the CEO slot.
Krzanich will be just the sixth chief executive at Intel, following co-founder Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Andy Grove, Craig Barrett, and then Paul Otellini, who announced his intention to retire last May.
“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to lead Intel,” Krzanich wrote in a statement. “We have amazing assets, tremendous talent, and an unmatched legacy of innovation and execution. I look forward to working with our leadership team and employees worldwide to continue our proud legacy, while moving even faster into ultra-mobility, to lead Intel into the next era.”
From a strategic perspective, the choice of Krzanich would seem to indicate that Intel plans to lead by manufacturing first, then design. It also returns Intel to its technical roots: while Otellini holds a degree in economics, Krzanich’s undergraduate work was in chemistry at San Jose State; he also holds a patent in semiconductor processing. From 1997 through 2001, for example, Krzanich oversaw Fab 17, where he was responsible for integrating Digital Equipment Corp.’s manufacturing operations into Intel’s own manufacturing lines. He also ran Intel’s Fab/Sort Manufacturing from 2007 through 2011 and assembly and test from 2003 to 2007. He has been on the job as chief operating officer since January of last year.
Krzanich’s biggest accomplishment, however—or at least the one chose to highlight in his bio—was the way he drove a broad transformation of Intel’s factories and supply chain in 2006, improving factory velocity by more than 60 percent.
Intel’s manufacturing strategy is predicated on the “tick-tock” formula: one year, Intel launches a new microarchitecture; the next, a new process technology. In theory, that rhythm eliminates the risk of releasing both at the same time, finding an issue, and then having to tease out which factor (manufacturing, or the new design) was responsible.
Intel’s success can be summed up in two words: 22 nanometers. That’s the process generation behind Intel’s next-generation “Haswell” chip, expected this June. AMD’s own “Piledriver” architecture, expected sometime in the second half of 2013, is manufactured via a 28-nm process and thus a generation (or half generation, depending on how you look at it) behind. (AMD has struggled to penetrate the market beyond the “value” class of notebooks, largely ceding the profitable high end to Intel.) And, of course, Intel’s Xeon still remains the dominant chip in the data center.
Krzanich will be asked to lead Intel through its own transition, as the chip market turns to even lower-power designs. In roughly a year, 64-bit ARM chips will start showing up in servers, offering a challenge to Intel’s dominance. Intel has responded with “Centerton,” its own low-power offering. So will Intel continue to drive the data center, or will new challenges eat away at its lead? Next summer (a year into Krzanich’s tenure) we’ll be better able to judge.