Intel’s Software Inside Is on the Rise

“If Intel’s future chief executives continue rising through its ranks, then the real news isn’t that Intel named Brian Krzanich its sixth CEO. It’s that Intel software chief Renee James may be in line to succeed him,” writes Mark Hachman reporting for Intel’s CEOs generally emerge from the president’s office or that of the COO—Krzanich’s former job. Last November, the elevation of Renee James by Intel’s chairman Andy Bryant, along with Krzanich, Dadi Perlmutter, Intel’s chief of its chip business, and Arvind Sodhani, head of the company’s internal VC unit, Intel Capital, as possible successors to Paul Otellini, marked a departure for famed semiconductor company.

May 9 2013 by

Viewed from this perspective Hachman thinks Krzanich’s appointment as chief executive, with James just below him on the executive ladder, makes sense. “Intel’s not about to try a RIM/BlackBerry-styled double chief executive, but for a number of years, Intel operated out of a two-in-the-box strategy, where responsibilities for certain divisions were shared not by one, but by two executives.”

He adds, “manufacturing prowess remains key to Intel. When the company ships its next-generation “Haswell” processor this June, the chip’s smallest features will be just 22 nanometers wide, putting it a full generation ahead of AMD’s expected “Piledriver” chip. Smaller chips with finer “line widths” are traditionally more powerful; now that the focus has turned to mobile, Intel can reduce the power those chips consume instead.

Which isn’t to say Intel doesn’t have a lot of catching up to do. It has fallen badly behind in producing processors for smartphones and tablets, in an eerie repeat of the way it was initially late to the notebook PC market.

Krzanich’s job will be to turn that around. Ideally, Intel needs to design the best chips it can, shrink them down as small as possible, and then them them with optimized software to maximize their potential.

James’ appointment is as much reward as recognition of her strategic role. In 2009, soon after the Wind River acquisition, the notoriously grouchy Grove was asked to characterize Intel’s history in software. “The results have been very consistent,” Grove, then 73 and retired, told The Oregonian. “They amounted to nothing.” Now, they’re everything.”