Intel'™s CEO History

Summary : Intel: 50 Years of Leadership

Intel: 50 Years of Leadership


Six people have held the title of CEO over the first fifty years of Intel’s existence. All six have faced and have had to overcome great challenges. At the same time, no leader can be great without great followers. The real question is, what did these leaders set out to accomplish, did they achieve their goals, and what problems did they leave for each that followed them.




Robert N. Noyce, 1968-1975

Bob laid the groundwork when he founded the company with Gordon Moore in 1968. Both men did so much in this early period to create an egalitarian culture that they would make Intel the flag bearer for what today is seen as Silicon Valley culture. Their efforts would also make Intel the technology flag bearer for diversity in the workplace as well. 

The biggest challenge Bob faced was getting the funding and cash flow to make the company successful. That meant getting both investors and customers on-board with the vision of the company. He had a magical touch. I can to this day remember meeting him for the first time. He had no reason to inspire me or even make me feel comfortable. Yet he did this almost instantaneously. He had a way of making your nervousness sheet off you like water sheeting off a duck’s back. Arguably, this is why he was so good at attracting investors and making sales. As CEO he really did bring life and sustainability to Intel.

One of the most overlooked accomplishments that Bob made was in stepping down. Like George Washington, Bob understood the importance of stepping aside and bringing up others to lead. So many start-ups age poorly, with founders that no longer want to work but won’t step down. Bob led Intel’s succession strategy by example: He chose to step down and hand the reins over to Moore early on. He would then go on to be a statesman for our industry.


Gordon E. Moore, 1975-1987

While Noyce brought in the money, Gordon was the strategist that would guide Intel to profitability by being in the right markets. The ever-humble Gordon would often dismiss his accomplishments saying, “I was just lucky.” I once replied, “Gordon… you love fishing, right?” M: “Yes.” D: “Well, you know that fishing is finding the place where the most fish are and leaving the rest to luck. And yes, while you were lucky, you also always knew where to fish. Right?” M: “I guess you’re right.” Like I said, always humble.

Gordon’s strategic mind covered just about everything for the company. He forged Intel into one of the world’s top memory suppliers with his “Goldilocks’ strategy.” He made Intel’s manufacturing operations into an innovation engine by putting R&D in the fab. He also kept microprocessors on the back burner when the market was small to focus on memory. He then made the decision with Andy Grove to get out of memories and bring microprocessors to the forefront as the latter was making the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit architectures. Under his watch, memory would become more than half its revenue and then be instrumental in trading this leadership role for one in microprocessors.


Andrew S. Grove, 1987-1998

Andy was the real force behind the move out of memory and into microprocessors. One of the hardest things for leaders … especially leaders in public companies … is to sacrifice their cash cow for new opportunities in the distance. It was the bleeding red ink that made it clear that something had to be done… That they were not competitive enough in manufacturing to hold their dominant position in memory.

In Andy’s book, “Only the Paranoid Survive,” he drilled it down to a simple question that leaders should ask themselves: If you were the new management coming in to replace yourself, what would you do? He had an amazing ability to distill some of the most complex problems into simple easy-to-understand strategies.

On the surface, what’s remarkable about Andy is that he wrote bestselling books on technology and then management — all the while working full time at Intel. Initially a researcher, he taught himself management and then strategy. His ability to metamorphize when the times demanded it was amazing. His first move came as Intel’s first employee, when he was tasked with reinventing chip manufacturing from the lessons in failure at Fairchild. He did this by embedding R&D in manufacturing.

Andy’s biggest challenge was two-fold: first, he needed to find a way to replace half of Intel’s business with something new. Today, few remember Intel’s move out of memory as being such a huge strategic pivot or that Intel had become an also-ran in microprocessors by the early eighties.  The marketing strategy for capturing the processor sockets in IBM’s PC was brilliant. It pulled the rug out from under Motorola, who already had the order.

Second, he had to figure out how to break the then current rule that a chip company could not be successful unless it was in memory. This rule was because memory’s repeating patterns were the key yield driver. His blended understanding of technology, manufacturing, and business strategy put him in a position to know that putting SRAM cache on-chip solved this problem.

Under Andy, Intel would metamorphize from the world’s leading memory producer to the world’s leading microprocessor supplier by riding the PC wave that created so much growth in this era.

1 This is why he always said, "When I joined Intel ..." Always ‘joined’ instead of ‘founded.’


Craig R. Barrett, 1998-2005

Craig was the transitional CEO from the original three there at the start of the company. Having to stand in the shadow of these three and the fact that all he had to do from a market perspective is ride the PC wave is probably what makes him the forgotten Intel CEO. Yet his accomplishments were many.

Like, Andy, Craig had come up through manufacturing. Andy had built a system based on ‘creative conflict.’ This worked well while he was there to be the referee. But as he moved up the ladder, Intel’s manufacturing degenerated into tribal fabs that competed more with each other and not the world. Decisions were often made more by who could shout the loudest than by what was the right thing to do. As Craig moved up, he solved this with what he called 3-D decision making. The three D’s stood for “Data-Driven Decisions.” This, combined with the development of “Copy Exactly” under him, would restore Intel’s manufacturing, making it a global leader again. This took him to the CEO’s office.

When Craig became CEO, the semiconductor industry was going through a volcanic structural change that was shifting its tectonic plates. Since its beginning, the semiconductor industry was structured with large captive producers made up of systems makers, such as IBM and AT&T, who gave out research learning to like Halloween candy. It continued long after AT&T was forced to giveaway its transistor patents in order to ensure a viable supply chain. So-called merchant chip makers, like Intel, benefited tremendously. The captives did the Research and the merchants did the Development.

But this symbiotic relationship was being killed by the advent of VLSI scales of integration, which were leading to what was later called SoC. Before that, system architecture IP was held by the system makers, while the merchant chip makers simply produced the building blocks of these systems.

Craig, more than anyone, had the vision to see that being successful in the future meant a semiconductor company had to have a world-class research capability. And he built it in an era when others were abandoning it to foundries, while foundries were leaving it up to equipment companies. He made Intel into a heavy-weight research company. This would catapult Intel from being middle-of-the pack in new node introductions to being the leader for a period that would last through the company’s golden anniversary.

Craig also saw the structural impact 300mm wafers would have and pushed the company to be a leader in its introduction. The criticism most levied against him was a series of acquisitions leading into 2000, as the maturing of the Internet was changing the technology landscape. Most were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, his acquisitions did preface where Intel needed to go.

More than anyone, Craig understood the need for failures as a way to learn. He had seen this in research and expected it to be the case as Intel needed to shift course. He also saw the difficulty in implementing change in a large company, likening it to the Creosote bush, which poisons the ground, so nothing can grow underneath. Hence, allowing it to thrive on what little water the desert provides.


Paul S. Otellini, 2005-2013

Paul is the only Intel CEO to have a non-technical background. The challenge over his tenure was in part to transform Intel from a company that sold parts out of catalogs into a marketing giant. He needed to find a new path for Intel in the maturing internet economy, just as AMD was deposing the company’s leadership position in processors. When named head of Intel in 2005, its flagship microprocessors were taking on water. AMD’s Opteron was grabbing share due to the brilliant move of its architects to integrate the memory controller.  But he didn’t attack AMD directly with marketing. Regaining the lost momentum would be the result of a multi-vectored effort that included revamping Intel’s architecture design team, which reinvigorated Intel Architecture with dual-core, de-emphasizing the RISC-based Itanium architecture, and shifting supply chain relationships from adversarial to partnering.  Most importantly, he would go after a bigger customer problem than speed.

By that time, the two-year clock of Moore’s Law was no longer fast enough. Consumers were now steering the boat, which meant a one-year clock was needed to keep up with the unmovable annual run-ups to Back-to-School and Christmas day. Yet structurally, it was impossible to speed up Moore’s Law. To solve what was seemingly an intractable problem, Paul ushered the Tick Tock model back in.1 It was a brilliant a tactical approach to separate the delivery of process nodes (the tick) and architecture nodes (the tock) by a year. That way OEMs could deliver new product generations based on new Intel chips every year. The resulting predictability would reverse AMD’s gains while providing a new platform for steadier annual growth. Not just for Intel, but more importantly for its customers who needed to plan well ahead to deliver to a one-year clock.

The end of the Mega-Hertz era: This was another trouble Paul had to deal with. It started with what was seemingly a minor marketing problem: While their next generation processor family would have more performance, it would be the first time Intel came to market with a slower clock speed. But the more they dug, the deeper it got. This was no minor problem, it would prove to be the start of a new era: Mobile.

This ‘minor’ problem would be the seed for the decision to integrate WiFi into a new processor series that would be called Centrino®.  Otellini’s grounding in marketing would show in the approach he took, speaking well of the decision to appoint its first CEO without a technical background.

At the time, PCs were still desk anchors chained to a wall socket. But these anchors had shrunk from big beige boxes to notebooks that people carried around. The old paradigm had not pivoted enough to reveal a problem. The world had adjusted with conference room tables that had ditches in their center, which contained access to ethernet and power. Back then, a light notebook could be described as weighing five pounds with a two-pound power-brick. Yet, this was a cutting-edge improvement over the previous generation of “luggables” made famous by Compaq Computer.  The question was, what really lay in the future?

Under Paul, Intel would develop a strategy based on “The Four Vectors of Mobility: Performance, Battery Life, Form Factor, and Connectivity.” Of the four, only one was severely lacking: Connectivity. What connectivity there was meant connecting wires to a phone or ethernet jack. Connecting to a cell phone was virtually impossible. Seen this way, you can see why WiFi was such an obvious technical choice. But it wasn’t that simple. Nor was the problem technical. They couldn’t just sell chips. They had to ignite an infrastructure of WiFi hot spots in the wild for connectivity to be real. They would start with airports, then bus and train terminals, and then with Starbucks. By the time they hit Starbucks, customers were coming for the hot spot as much as for the coffee, which took WiFi viral. Once WiFi was driving customer choice about where to get their coffee, every coffee shop and then other retailers had to get on board.

It is often claimed that Intel was a failure in mobile. But those that make this claim limit the term ‘mobile’ to smart phones, ignoring the role of WiFi. WiFi has always been the neglected sibling of cellular. But before you consider it a failure, consider that Intel’s profits of $11B in Otellini’s last full year was over 60% higher than the total of Broadcom’s and Qualcomm’s that year. It’s true that Intel never credibly made it across the bridge to cellular in the public’s eye. But one should not neglect the fact that no one had to create a wireless infrastructure in cellular for the smartphone. It was already there to be taken advantage of. No such infrastructure existed for WiFi, for which the creation of by Intel was a far more monumental task. Imagine what your life would be like if it had not been done. The buildout of the WiFi infrastructure didn’t involve following the simple cadence of technology. Making WiFi real had to be approached by creating new emergent behavior in the world outside technology to make it successful.   

For more on Paul’s thoughts, here are links for two videos from an interview I did with him:  Going Mobile and Innovation and American Competitiveness

1: Tick Tock had been used before to less effect. So it had been tabled. Paul brought it back, aligning it to true predictability. Market-to-Operations alignment move like this is why a competitor summarizing why he was such a tough competitor remarked, “Paul Otellini taught Intel marketing.”


Brian M. Krzanich, 2013-2018


Brian became CEO at a time when Intel faced another major shift in the industry. Intel’s bread-and-butter, the PC business was in decline. Fortunately for him, Intel’s failure to move into mobile meant he didn’t have to deal with decline here as well. All he had to do was back out of it and focus on other areas. This left him able to capitalize on Intel’s strength in the data center, shifting the company’s strategy to being focused on the “Data Economy.” Only time will tell how this has left the company.


Annexure :

Intel: 50 Years of Leadership

Intel’s CEO History

Robert N. Noyce, 1968-1975

Gordon E. Moore, 1975-1987

Andrew S. Grove, 1987-1998

Craig R. Barrett, 1998-2005

Paul S. Otellini, 2005-2013

Brian M. Krzanich, 2013-2018

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