Meet the (wo)men who could be named Intel's next CEO

CNET details the pluses and minuses for some candidates, including Intel Chief Operating Officer Brian Krzanich and VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.

Shara Tibken
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
9 min read

Intel talked up new processors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

In a few short months, Intel will have a new CEO. Who that person will be remains a mystery, but he (or she) is sure to have a big role in shaping the future of the company and the broader technology industry.

Since Intel sure isn't talking (a spokesman simply said the search is ongoing and thorough and that Intel hopes to have a replacement by the time CEO Paul Otellini retires in May), CNET decided to list a few candidates whose names are mentioned on Wall Street and around the Intel water cooler. Keep in mind that our list isn't comprehensive, and Intel could end up naming a CEO that no one outside of the board had considered.

Before getting into the candidates, it's important to note that Intel has a history of grooming internal executives for the CEO role. Otellini became the clear successor to Craig Barrett after being named president and chief operating officer in 2002. He took over as Intel's fifth CEO in 2005. And CEOs before him also were put on the path for the top job fairly early.

However, the succession path is less clear this time around. The man expected to follow Otellini, Sean Maloney, suffered a stroke in 2010, taking him out of the running. He retired from Intel in January.

Intel recently promoted a slate of its senior executives, positioning them for the top role, but none is a shoo-in. Intel has never selected a CEO from outside the company, but people familiar with the selection process tell CNET that the company is seriously looking at external candidates. If one is chosen, that could signal big changes ahead for Intel.

"I'm rooting for an outsider," Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood said. "One of the things that happens when you have a company like Intel is that everybody kind of gets aligned with a certain way of thinking about the world. As a result of that aspect, it's really hard for somebody to say that we need to make a dramatic change in a certain direction."

Whoever is named to the top role at the world's biggest semiconductor maker is likely to face some pretty hard decisions shortly after taking the helm. He (or she) will be tasked with navigating Intel through a market where more people are buying smartphones and tablets than PCs, which is where a bulk of its business remains. Gaining a strong foothold in mobile will be key to the company's future. And figuring out ways to reinvigorate its core computing market and looking at the foundry business, where it would build chips designed by other companies, are areas the CEO will need to dive into.

The board is still in the early stages of looking at candidates, according to people familiar with the recruiting procedures, adding that while there is a preference for an internal candidate, there is no clear front runner. Here are a few names being mentioned, along with some of their strengths and weaknesses:

Internal candidates:

  • Brian Krzanich serves as Intel's executive vice president and chief operating officer. Intel
    Brian Krzanich, Intel executive vice president and chief operating officer -- Krzanich is considered by many to be one of the leading contenders within Intel. He joined the company in 1982 and has worked in many different technical areas since that time. Krzanich now runs the company's manufacturing operations and also oversees supply chain, human resources, and information technology operations following his appointment as chief operating officer in January of last year.

    As previously mentioned, Intel typically names its CEO front runner as COO first, and the last person to hold that role was Otellini. It's unclear whether history will repeat itself, but if Intel shifts to more of a foundry model, Krzanich could be the right person to lead that push. Manufacturing is a key differentiator for Intel and having someone at the helm who really understands that part of the business and can keep the trains running on time could be helpful. In addition, most of Intel's CEOs, aside from Otellini, came from a traditional engineering/technical background.

    His downsides: Krzanich doesn't have much marketing/sales experience, and he's not very well-known outside the company. He doesn't have the gravitas of some other potential candidates, but Intel may decide that doesn't matter. If what the company is focusing on is manufacturing and fabs, Krzanich is the guy.

  • Stacy Smith, executive vice president, chief financial officer, and director of corporate strategy -- Smith is another frontrunner within Intel for the top post. He was promoted in November to the executive vice president slot along with Krzanich and another possible candidate, Renee James (more on her later).

    Intel CFO Stacy Smith at CNET's offices. Sarah Tew/CNET
    Smith joined Intel in 1988 and has largely worked on the business side of the company. His tenure has included time in finance (his current role), sales and marketing, and information technology. A big thing Smith has going for him is his position with Wall Street. He's well-liked by analysts and investors and is often a public spokesman for the company. Despite coming from the business side instead of a tech background, Smith is able to speak knowledgeably and articulately about the business, and his new role overseeing corporate strategy also positions him well.

    Smith's biggest weakness is his lack of experience in technical areas. Even though Otellini largely was a businessman, he did have a stint managing Intel's PC and server microprocessor division. Smith hasn't held any such role.

    When meeting with CNET in January, Smith declined to say anything about the CEO search beyond saying the board was "conducting a thorough process" and had a "great, thoughtful approach to it."

  • Renee James, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's software and services group. Intel
  • Renee James, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's software and services group -- James was the third manager promoted to executive vice president at the time Otellini's retirement was announced. She has been with the company since 1988.

    James oversees Intel's software operations, a part of the business that has become much more important over the past few years. The company acquired McAfee, a provider of security software, for $7.68 billion in 2010, and it has made several smaller purchases, as well. It also has grown the number of engineers it has working on Android and other operating systems.

    However, Intel is still a hardware company at heart. Naming James or another software-oriented executive as CEO would likely chart a different path for the company. While some people may welcome that, it's highly unlikely Intel would abandon its semiconductor roots. Whoever is named CEO has to be comfortable with spending billions of dollars on new factories and R&D -- sums rarely spent at software companies.

  • Dadi Perlmutter oversees Intel's architecture group. Intel
  • David (Dadi) Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group and chief product officer of Intel -- Perlmutter oversees chip design for all computing segments, including data centers, desktops, laptops, handhelds, embedded devices, and consumer electronics.

    He joined Intel in 1980 and since that time has run various technical areas. Perlmutter has been closely involved with some of Intel's biggest advances and is credited for the company's success with its Centrino line of notebook processors.

    There's no denying that Perlmutter has the technical chops to lead a semiconductor company.

    However, Perlmutter doesn't have as much experience with the sales/marketing side, and he doesn't have a big presence outside of Intel. Both facts could limit his success at the helm.

    An Intel spokesman declined to comment on behalf of the company's executives.

External candidates:

  • Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware -- Gelsinger currently serves as CEO of VMware, but his connection to Intel goes way back.

    VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger VMware
    Gelsinger joined Intel in 1979 and quickly rose through the ranks. During his time at the company, Gelsinger held the role of chief technology officer and head of Intel Labs, where the company's research efforts take place. Gelsinger also led Intel's operations for making enterprise products like the Xeon server processors, and he oversaw Intel's desktop computer chip business.

    While Gelsinger's ascent at Intel was quick, it came to a fairly abrupt halt when it appeared Gelsinger would be passed over for the role of CEO. He left the company in 2009 to join data storage provider EMC as president and chief operating officer of information infrastructure products. He remained in that role until becoming CEO of VMware, the virtualization software provider majority owned by EMC.

    On the plus side, Gelsinger is well-respected in the technology industry, has a strong public profile, and is familiar with Intel's culture, which some analysts say can be difficult for outsiders to navigate. In addition, Intel's data center business generates a lot of revenue and is very important to the company.

    However, Gelsinger hasn't been CEO of VMware very long (he took over the role in September), and many believe him to be in line to take over from EMC CEO Joe Tucci when he retires. In addition, Gelsinger doesn't have much mobile experience, and he's linked to the failure of Larrabee, Intel's efforts to make a standalone graphics processor to compete with Nvidia and AMD.

    We've contacted Gelsinger for comment and will update the report when we hear back.

  • Sanjay Jha, former CEO of Motorola Mobility -- Jha has a lot of free time now that he's no longer head of Motorola Mobility. He stepped down from his role after Google bought the company last year. Before that time, he served as chief operating officer of Qualcomm and president of Qualcomm CDMA technologies, the world's biggest provider of mobile processors and one of Intel's biggest rivals.

    Sanjay Jha, the former CEO of Motorola Mobility Motorola
    Jha has the most mobile experience of anyone on the list of possible Intel CEOs. If Intel's future is mobile -- and many believe it is -- having an executive who has worked in the industry would be helpful.

    Jha already has a relationship with Intel as Motorola became one of the first major players to use Intel processors in phones. Jha joined Otellini onstage at 2012's Consumer Electronics Show to announce a multiyear, multidevice partnership.

    However, Motorola Mobility largely floundered under Jha's leadership. It quickly saw its market share erode to larger rivals like Apple and Samsung, and the company's financials continue to weigh on broader Google results. His biggest success was getting Google to buy Motorola for $12.5 billion. While at the helm, Jha aggressively streamlined Motorola's smartphones business and slowed the pace of new product launches toward the end of his time with the company, a trend Google is continuing.

    In addition, while Jha worked at a semiconductor company (Qualcomm), he doesn't have experience running chip factories like the massive fabs owned by Intel. And it could be tough for him to adjust to the Intel culture.

    CNET contacted Jha through his LinkedIn account, and we'll update the story when he responds.

  • Michael Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials -- Splinter is another Intel alum who left the company to take the top job at another technology company.

    Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter Applied Materials
    Splinter joined Applied Materials, a semiconductor equipment maker and supplier to Intel, in 2003 after it was clear Otellini would become Intel's next CEO instead of him. Before that, he worked at Intel for 20 years, holding roles such as executive vice president and director of sales and marketing and head of the technology and manufacturing group.

    Splinter has deep technical, manufacturing experience that could serve Intel well, and like Gelsinger, he's familiar with the Intel culture.

    However, Splinter is the same age as Otellini (62), which would limit his tenure as CEO. The mandatory retirement age is 65. And he doesn't have much experience in mobile, which could be critical for Intel's future.

    Splinter declined to comment, via an Applied Materials spokeswoman.

Some other names batted about include David DeWalt, the former CEO of McAfee, which Intel acquired. He's currently serving as chairman of a couple of security companies, FireEye and Mandiant, as well as a board member for several companies like Delta Air Lines and the National Security Technology Advisory Council.

Also mentioned is William Nuti, CEO of ATM maker NCR Corp., and Dave Donatelli, the former EMC exec who now runs HP's enterprise group that includes servers, storage, and networking.

Long shots include Scott Forstall, the former Apple software exec who was fired in the midst of the great Maps fiasco, and former Microsoft Windows head Steven Sinofsky. Both were considered divisive figures at their respective companies, meaning Intel would have a lot of work on its hands if it names either to the top role.

Even though Intel is still in the early stages of its search, it will likely name its new CEO within the next couple of months.

"While Intel is a company that certainly faces some challenges, Intel is not a broken company," Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap said. "Bringing in somebody from the outside who is going to shake things up and change things around could be an overreaction."

CNET will keep following this story and will update readers as it develops.