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Intel's next-gen CEO must get inside next-gen devices

Brad Chacos | May 6, 2013
With Brian Krzanich and his manufacturing prowess at the helm of Chipzilla, expect it to keep trying to out-engineer the competition.

Let's do the boring stuff first: Intel has found its new head honcho in current chief operating officer Brian Krzanich (pronounced Krah-ZAN-itch), who will take over the CEO reins when Paul Otellini steps down at the annual stockholder's meeting on May 16.

Normally, we don't cover executive shake-ups at tech companies because the details of who is wearing what suit don't matter much to everyday users. Who cares who the head of MegaCorp 5 is?

It's different when it's Intel.

Intel is one of the bedrock businesses supporting the Wintel ecosystem. And shake-ups there can easily lead to aftershocks that affect the entire PC industry--which is already in a somewhat precarious position, shaken by the rise of tablets, the wobbling of Moore's Law, and the transformation of PCs into microwaves. Into this landscape of ominous seismic activity walks Krzanich.

So Intel has a new CEO. Now what?

Don't rock the boat, baby

The mere fact that the engineering-focused Krzanich, rather than a senior executive from a nontechnical division such as marketing or software, was anointed the new leader speaks volumes about Intel's plans.

"Regardless of the CEO, the same challenges exist for Intel," says Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy and a long-time executive at AMD. "But I believe that based on the CEO that they picked--Krzanich--they will largely follow the same strategy they've been using."

Intel prides itself on its technical prowess, and Krzanich's background lies in the operations side of things. Nuts and bolts and cutting-edge chip manufacturing are in his blood.

"Choosing Krzanich means Intel will continue to drive the heck out of their fabs [fabrication facilities] and fab technologies," Moorhead says.

The official Intel line closely matches Moorhead's prediction.

"Certainly the new leadership will be looking at some new strategies," Intel technical manufacturing manager Chuck Mulloy told PCWorld via email. "They have said today that they would expect to continue to leverage our existing strengths of design and architecture along with unmatched silicon expertise from a process and transistor perspective, but also in terms of our ability to scale."

In other words, Intel will continue to try to out-engineer the competition rather than veering off in a new direction under Krzanich. Here's how he--and Intel--are likely to proceed.

Mucho mobile

The biggest nut Intel absolutely has to crack is the mobile market. Like Microsoft, Intel was caught flat-footed by the ascension of smartphones and tablets, and it's now scrambling to stay relevant in an increasingly mobile world.

Building from an energy efficiency-first perspective, ARM has a mammoth lead among smartphone and tablet makers, but Intel is rapidly closing the gap. A handful of Android phones, all outside the U.S., already run on the company's x86 smartphone silicon, and Intel's latest tablet-focused Atom chips sip power with the best of them, while delivering full compatibility with legacy Windows apps.


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