Will Intel's gamble on outsiders change the company's fortunes?

A whole lot of new faces are showing up, breaking down Intel's walls.

There is a complex line of thinking regarding insiders vs. outsiders at corporations. A lot of people (including me) argued that Microsoft needed an outsider to shake things up in the wake of Steve Ballmer's failures, but with Satya Nadella, it turned out an insider is doing just fine.

Other times, though, an outsider is just what the doctor ordered. Look at IBM back in the 1990s. Louis Gerstner came from RJR Nabisco and a lot of bad jokes were made about it. As it turned out, he was just what that company needed.

In the case of Intel, the latter might also be in order. This is a company where every CEO has been a founder or a lifer, and up and down the executive chain, you'll find people who have spent their entire working careers at the company. Outsiders who come in late in their career are rarely as successful as the lifers. But that may be changing.

Linley Gwennap, a veteran semiconductor analyst and head of The Linley Group, noted in an editorial in his newsletter The Microprocessor Report this week that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich is bringing in a large number of veteran semiconductor executives from its competitors, which could give the company the kick in the pants it needs as it struggles to expand its reach beyond the PC and servers.

The most recent hire is former Qualcomm executive Murthy Renduchintala, the former co-head of Qualcomm's chip business. He will head Intel's new position as president of its client and Internet of Things business.

Gwennap also notes the hiring of another Qualcomm exec, Amir Faintuch, to run its massive Platform Engineering Group (PEG), which designs most Intel chips. Other outsiders include Anwar Awad (from Synopsys), Amit Baruch (Samsung), Shawn Covell (Qualcomm), Mark Davis (Via Telecom), Charlie Matar (AMD), Ari Rauch (AMD), and Howard Wright (Qualcomm).

This also begs the question of what the hell is happening at Qualcomm that so many senior level executives are jumping ship. But that's a topic for another blog.

Gwennap says that Intel has a "not invented here" culture not unlike the one at Microsoft in years past, which has slowly unraveled. So he thinks Intel parts might incorporate some intellectual property from ARM Holdings, similar to AMD's Project Seattle, something previous management would never do.

It could go well or badly, Gwennap warns:

This type of change can be very disruptive. If handled poorly, the transition will delay projects, and valuable employees may become frustrated and leave. The key is for the new managers to recognize Intel's many strengths, including industry-leading IC technology, excellent engineers, and a broad IP portfolio. If they can harness these strengths while improving workflow and accelerating development time, Intel will have a better chance at winning in new markets.

How these new faces do will be interesting to watch. Intel is a unique place to work, and a tough one. They weed out the misfits fast, and there's no punching a clock at that place. Whether this changes the culture and makes them move competitive will take time to show up, though. That's a big ship to turn.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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