Executive shakeups hit Qualcomm, Intel

One retires and one is banished to the woodshed for an ill-chosen comment.

The tech industry regularly experiences executive shakeups, particularly after a new CEO is chosen. Many of the contenders passed over for the gig tend to head for the exit in search of new opportunities. This past week, we had two big shakeups at two of the biggest names in chips that leave a lot of unanswered questions.

Intel announced David "Dadi" Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group would leave the company in February 2014. Perlmutter was considered a candidate for the CEO position at one point, but he got there through attrition. Pat Gelsinger, who was considered a leading contender, left the firm in 2009 to join EMC and is now CEO of VMware.

Then Sean Maloney, who was thought the shoo-in for the CEO job, suffered a severe stroke. After a lengthy rehab, he was made Chairman of Intel China, but has since retired. That left Perlmutter as a contender, but the job went to Brian Krzanich, a much lower profile executive.

Perlmutter was a technically solid executive and his work with the Israel design group pretty much saved Intel's behind in the past decade. The Israel group came up with the Centrino architecture that made mobile computing so ubiquitous, and it came up with the Core architecture while the American group was going down the dead end that was the NetBurst architecture. As a speaker, though, he was a snooze, especially with that thick accent. He just couldn’t compare to Gelsinger's preacher-like zeal or Maloney's energy, and Intel needs a good talker at the helm.

One analyst told me the Israeli group in general is being pushed aside. Besides Perlmutter's retirement, Gadi Singer, a vice president in the Intel Architecture Group, has all but disappeared from public view, and Mooley Eden, a vice president in the mobility group and one of the funniest public speakers I have ever seen, has gone back to Israel after transferring to the headquarters in Santa Clara. However, I was told by another chip industry analyst that Eden and his wife were homesick and wanted to return to Israel.

This isn't the only odd happening in the Intel executive suite. CTO Justin Rattner has retired from the firm and no one has replaced him. This past Intel Developer Forum was the first one without a CTO speech since the position was created by Gelsinger in 2001.

I know every CEO puts his or her stamp on a company but Krzanich sure is shaking things up. I'm not sure I would edge aside the Israeli group though. They pretty much saved Intel when it screwed up a decade ago. Much of Intel's success today is due to that group and they appear to be getting some lousy thanks for it.

Further south from Santa Clara, a former Intel executive now with Qualcomm has been banished to the woodshed. Anand Chandrasekhar, who led Intel's mobile group before leaving in 2012, had been executive vice president and head of marketing at Qualcomm until he spoke out of turn regarding the Apple A7 chip.

Much was made over the A7 being 64-bit, but Chandrasekhar told TechWorld that the 64-bit nature of the A7 was "a gimmick" and that the user gets "zero benefit."

One could argue he has a point. We've had 64-bit processors on desktops for a decade and the one benefit is we can use more than 4GB of memory. On a smartphone, that's not an issue. Smartphones come with 1GB of memory. The move to 64-bit has primarily benefitted the server side of PCs.

But it seems Chandrasekhar's comments were not well-received. Qualcomm issued a retraction a few days later, and now has reassigned him to a new, unknown position. "Anand Chandrasekher, is moving to a new role leading our exploration of certain enterprise related initiatives ... Anand will continue to report to Steve Mollenkopf, COO and President of Qualcomm. This will be effective immediately," the company said in a statement to the press.

Now it's not too surprising that Qualcomm would react this way since it supplies LTE and radio chips to Apple. Broadcom, its closest competitor in the radio chip market, isn't even close to being competitive with LTE. So Qualcomm has a relationship to preserve. You'd think a senior executive like Chandrasekhar would know that.

What's interesting because Qualcomm hasn't really had an enterprise strategy or products, and Chandrasekhar was a mobility guy. Well, his impolitic comment shows he wasn't cut out for the delicate art of marketing, where discipline and staying on message are everything.

Some people have noticed that Chandrasekhar's picture has been removed from the list of executives, but that could simply to hide his title which might give away or offer a clue as to what he is doing. For now, we can take Qualcomm for its word that he's still with the company.

It's an interesting turn of events. It might be Qualcomm had planned this all along and it's just coincidental timing. Or perhaps Chandrasekhar went out with a bang. For now it remains to be seen just what he will be doing.

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