Renee James, Intel's highest-ranking woman, to depart

The move comes amid a handful of other leadership changes, with Intel Capital's head retiring and two other executives departing.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
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President Renee James holds the highest-ranking position any woman ever has held at Intel. Intel

Intel President Renee James will step down to seek a CEO job elsewhere, ending a career of more than 25 years at the world's largest chipmaker.

The move, announced Thursday, means Intel will be losing its highest-ranking woman at a time when CEO Brian Krzanich has been pushing for greater diversity at his company and in the tech industry at large. James landing in a corner office at another tech firm could mark progress in this broad effort, though may weaken Intel's own diversity push in the process.

However, Aicha Evans, a wireless technologies general manager who has been rising in the ranks at Intel, was elevated to the company's management committee, Intel said Thursday, a sign of the company's interest in bringing up women in critical roles amid its 75 percent-male workforce.

"When Brian and I were appointed to our current roles," James said in a letter to Intel employees, "I knew then that being the leader of a company was something that I desired as part of my own leadership journey. Now is the right time for me to take that next step."

James and Krzanich were elected to their roles in May 2013. They split former president and CEO Paul Otellini's job titles, with Krzanich becoming CEO and James taking on the newly created role of president, gaining the highest-ranking position ever held by a woman at Intel. James plans to stay at Intel until January to help with the transition.

"We fully support her in this decision," Krzanich said in a statement.

A company representative said James' departure "has no effect on Intel's commitment to diversity and inclusion or our diversity initiative," adding that its commitment to inclusion and its progress so far "remains strong." The representative also pointed out that Intel will continue to have several women in major roles, including Diane Bryant leading Intel's data-center group, Kim Stevenson heading IT and Ann Kelleher leading Intel's global factory network.

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In addition to James' departure, Intel also said Thursday that Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital, will retire in January after a 35-year career with the company. Mergers and acquisitions head Wendell Brooks will replace him. Also, executives Mike Bell and Hermann Eul will be leaving the chipmaker following a transition period. Both Bell and Eul had lost main leadership roles over the past year, so their exits from Intel are not unexpected.

Meanwhile, Josh Walden, the general manager of the newly created New Technology Group, now leads all product and research teams working on new technology areas, such as interactive and perceptual computing and wearable devices.

The leadership changes come at a challenging time for Intel. The chipmaker ended 2014 on a high note thanks to an uptick in demand for personal computers -- Intel's biggest revenue generator. But, the company has already started off 2015 with the more-typical woes of softer PC sales and weaker-than-expected revenues, as consumers move to mobile devices. Intel now is working to focus its growth on data-center chips, which have been a bright spot for Intel, as well as on mobile -- so far, a money-losing effort -- and on wearables, which are still a nascent business.

Eul had been leading mobile and Bell was leading wearables, so their departures may signal that Intel could be taking a different direction in both areas. Bell over the past year had been an especially prominent face for Intel, often promoting new partnerships as the chipmaker expanded into wearables.

The shakeup could help Intel speed its efforts to become far more than a hardware company, said Gartner analyst Sergis Mushell, with new leaders helping it do more to marry hardware and software into its products and expand into more devices beyond PCs.

On James' departure, he added, it's still unclear how big a loss that exit will be for Intel.

"Who replaces her will be the key," Mushell said.