Pat Gelsinger stepping down as VMware CEO to replace Bob Swan at Intel

Pat Gelsinger stepping down as VMware CEO to replace Bob Swan at Intel

In a move that could have wide ramifications across the tech landscape, Intel announced that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger would be replacing interim CEO Bob Swann at Intel on February 15th. The question is why would he leave his job to run a struggling chip giant.

The bottom line is he has a long history with Intel, working with some of the biggest names in chip industry lore before he joined VMware in 2009. It has to be a thrill for him to go back to his roots and try to jump start the company.

“I was 18 years old when I joined Intel, fresh out of the Lincoln Technical Institute. Over the next 30 years of my tenure at Intel, I had the honor to be mentored at the feet of Grove, Noyce and Moore,” Gelsinger wrote in a blog post announcing his new position.

Certainly Intel recognized that the history and that Gelsinger’s deep executive experience should help as the company attempts to compete in an increasingly aggressive chip industry landscape. “Pat is a proven technology leader with a distinguished track record of innovation, talent development, and a deep knowledge of Intel. He will continue a values-based cultural leadership approach with a hyper focus on operational execution,” Omar Ishrak, independent chairman of the Intel board said in a statement.

But Gelsinger is walking into a bit of a mess. As my colleague Danny Crichton wrote in his year-end review of the chip industry last month, Intel is far behind its competitors, and it’s going to be tough to play catch-up:

Intel has made numerous strategic blunders in the past two decades, most notably completely missing out on the smartphone revolution and also the custom silicon market that has come to prominence in recent years. It’s also just generally fallen behind in chip fabrication, an area it once dominated and is now behind Taiwan-based TSMC, Crichton wrote.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy agrees with this assertion, saying that Swan was dealt a bad hand, walking in to clean up a mess that has years long timelines. While Gelsinger faces similar issues, Moorhead thinks he can refocus the company. “I am not foreseeing any major strategic changes with Gelsinger, but I do expect him to focus on the company’s engineering culture and get it back to an execution culture” Moorhead told me.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of massive chip industry consolidation last year with over $100 billion changing hands in four deals with NVidia nabbing ARM for $40 billion, the $35 billion AMD-Xilink deal, Analog snagging Maxim for $21 billion and Marvell grabbing Inphi for a mere $10 billion, not to mention Intel dumping its memory unit to SK Hynix for $9 billion.

As for VMware, it has to find a new CEO now. As Moorhead says, the obvious choice will be current COO Sanjay Poonen. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it will be up to Michael Dell who to hand the reins to, but he believes Gelsinger was stuck at Dell and would not get a broader role, so he left.

“VMware has a deep bench, but it will be up to Michael Dell to get a CEO who can innovate on the software side and keep the unique DNA of VMware inside the Dell portfolio going strong, Dell needs the deeper profits of this business for its turnaround,” he said.

The stock market seems to like the move for Intel with the company stock up 7.26%, but not so much for VMware, whose stock was down close to the same amount at 7.72% as went to publication.

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