Pat Gelsinger Would Be a Great CEO For Intel

Current VMware CEO and former Intel man Pat Gelsinger is being linked with the CEO role at Intel


Quartz is reporting that Intel is considering two external candidates to replace current CEO Paul Otellini: one is ex-Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha and the other is Pat Gelsinger, the current CEO of VMware. I know nothing at all about the former but quite a lot about the latter and believe he would be an intriguing choice. Here’s why.

Gelsinger left Intel three-and-a-half years ago to join VMware’s parent company EMC but his blood is Intel blue. He was a key figure in developing the x86 processors that powered a generation of PC users running Windows, a leading spokesman to media and critical point man for developers. Gelsinger is a techie who knows the company backwards from mobile to super-server and has the charisma and chutzpah to lead. I last interviewed him in 2007 when he showed all of the vast knowledge and highly opinionated personality that would suit Intel well.

Some might argue that appointing an Intel old boy would be verging on nostalgia when the PC era is waning, but this would be no retrograde step. Gelsinger's current job has taken him deep into the heart of what’s happening now in enterprise IT at the nexus of cloud and virtualisation as well as providing valuable experience of holding the top job at possibly the hottest company in modern business software.

Would he want the job? My hunch is that he probably would. VMware is obviously a great pioneer but to run one of the great engineering companies of the age at a time when its biggest cash-cow, the personal computer, is drying up and when rivals such as ARM are pressing hard would offer an enormous intellectual challenge. And Gelsinger has  always struck me as a man who loved a challenge: he never seemed as galvanised as when old rival AMD was outperforming Intel in the early part of this century.

From the outside, Gelsinger always seemed an Intel lifer, a person steeped in the company and a proud successor to the likes of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove. It was a surprise when he left for EMC although the rumour mill held that he was likely to be passed over for that role, perhaps in favour of another insider, Sean Maloney. In 2010 Maloney suffered a serious stroke, however, making that transition less likely.

Re-hiring Gelsinger now would give Intel double bubble: an outside-in view but also a safe pair of hands. Intel co-founder Grove famously said that Only the Paranoid Survive and if the company is seeking fresh inspiration without attendant risk, Gelsinger would be a perfect fit.

One caveat. When, a little over five years ago, I asked him if he would like one day to lead Intel, Gelsinger gave an interesting reply, saying he would prefer the role of President. But to be the CEO of Intel would be to scale a luminous summit and, if the world's biggest chip-maker comes calling, it might well be too good a job for him to turn down.

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director of IDG Connect