It's almost Christmas, so it feels like a good time to write about something spicier than we usually do. Full disclosure, things we will talk about include our speculation based on pieces of public information we collected from the Internet, so take it with a grain of salt and proceed at your own risk.
Story of Brian Krzanich Brian Krzanich, aka BK, was an Intel veteran. He started his career as a process engineer in the 1980s. He moved up the rank within Intel in the following decades, taking charge of some of Intel's most important manufacturing facilities known as fabs. BK was promoted to Intel's COO in 2012 and then CEO in the following year.
After taking the top job at Intel, his career was not as smooth as the prior 30 years. Intel has seen multiple delays in process technology development during his tenure, including 14nm and 10nm, letting rival TSMC become the world's most advanced semiconductor manufacturer. In June 2018, BK stepped down as CEO after engaging in a consensual relationship with a subordinate, violating Intel's anti-fraternization policy. The misbehavior was widely viewed as a trigger by the investing community. The more fundamental reason was the poor execution in process technology development, and BK will be known as the CEO who loses Intel's process leadership.
Story of Bob Swan Bob Swan was Intel's CFO from 2016 to 2019, after spending years as CFO at several other technology companies before that. He took over the Intel CEO job in January 2019 after BK stepped down. His short tenure ended in February 2021. During a recent interview, Morris Chang, the legendary founder of TSMC, shared his thought about the semiconductor landscape. One particular comment in the interview caught our attention. Morris Chang indicated Intel's prior CEO had reached out to TSMC as a potential foundry customer in the past but was voted down by Intel's Board of Directors. Intel's Board was so against the idea that it asked the CEO to step down as a result. It is unclear whether he was talking about BK or Bob Swan. Our best guess is Bob Swan, but we can't be 100% sure. If it were Bob Swan, that would make him the second CEO to step down because of Intel's poor execution in process technology.
Story of Pat Gelsinger However, Intel's Board of Directors seems to have changed their minds over the past year. We think the current CEO, Pat Gelsinger, plays an instrumental role here. Pat has a much stronger engineering background than his predecessors Bob Swan, a finance guy. Pat spent his entire 30+ years career in silicon valley, including 20 years at Intel, before returning as CEO in early 2021. He has worked side by side with some of the most influential figures in the semiconductor industry, including Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Andy Grove; he was the youngest VP in the history of Intel at the age of 32 and served as Intel' first CTO in 2001. He indeed has seen the old glory days of Intel. If someone can help turn Intel around and get its mojo back, Pat is the guy. Pat Gelsinger will visit Taiwan next week and meet with the leaders of TSMC to discuss working with TSMC as its manufacturing partner. However, Pat is now in a challenging position. On the one hand, his new strategy for Intel relies heavily on getting manufacturing support from TSMC in the near term; on the other hand, he is also planning on competing aggressively with TSMC in the foundry market. A trickly balance for him to maintain.
The dynamic between Intel and TSMC is likely one of the most exciting stories in the semiconductor industry over the next several years. Will Pat have better luck turning the company around compared to his predecessors? We are grateful to have a front-row seat to witness how it plays out.
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