Analysis: The long-hand of retired CEO Andy Grove in Intel's choice of president, Renee James

Intel watchers have focused on new CEO Brian Krzanich, when the much more interesting appointment is Intel's president, Renee James.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Most Intel watchers are agreed that Intel's new CEO, insider Brian Krzanich, is a safe choice, but that the world's largest chipmaker needed someone to "rock the boat". 

They miss the fact that Intel is a supertanker, you can't rock a supertanker no matter how much you jump up and down — you can just gradually change its direction.

What they also miss is the new face in the executive office: Renee James, president — the partner to Krzanich in Intel's "two-in-a-box" leadership team.

"I work for Brian, but the rest of the company works for Brian and I. We put the strategy together as a team," James told Oregon Live.

Her appointment shows the long-hand of Andy Grove, long-retired CEO (1998) and chairman (2004), at work, continuing to influence the course of the Intel supertanker. James worked as his technical assistant for four years — a mundane title that disguises the fact that it is always a fast track position into the top ranks of Intel.

This is what Andy Grove said about James nearly four years ago:

I would like to see her in the top role, or one of the top roles, at Intel.

Renee has an incredible ambition to do things and succeed, and then do something harder and succeed. It's a driving ambition, and it makes her undertake high-risk things. And it's not that she doesn't worry about the bumps ... But she takes them on.

Grove got his way.

It's significant that she was head of Intel's software group, the company now employs more software engineers than hardware engineers.

And its also significant that she is not an engineer, but has qualifications in business and marketing, similar to Paul Otellini, the retiring CEO, who was sometimes criticized for not being a technologist.

Intel's core business is alchemy

Krzanich has a chemistry degree, as did co-founder Gordon Moore, because making chips is all about chemistry. It's a process of alchemy, which transforms common sand into shiny slivers of advanced technologies that are each worth far more than their weight in gold.

Intel's board, which by the way is very much a "Grove" board, was completely remade by Grove in the mid-2000s, and essentially went back to basics with the appointment of the chemist Krzanich, but it made sure there was also an "outsider" perspective in Intel's strategy with the choice of James as co-leader.

Another significant point: James is based in Hillsboro, Oregon, where Intel is the state's largest employer. Its Silicon Valley HQ, where Krzanich works and is hundreds of miles away from its massive manufacturing operations in Oregon, and Arizona.

James's desk is next to Andy Bryant, Intel's chairman — she's much closer to the working heart of Intel than the distant Santa Clara, California HQ.

Andy Patrizio at Networked World, made a great point about her future role. 

She should be the CEO because these [Intel's business challenges] are all areas that require vision. Krzanich is an ops guy. That would have been something if Intel picked her, because then three of the largest firms in this industry — IBM, HP, and Intel — would all be led by women. But for now, she's the number two, and really the one to watch.

Background of Renee James, 48:

James grew up in Los Gatos, California. She came to Oregon to attend the University of Oregon (Class of 1986), where she ran track, majored in political science, and later earned a master's degree in business administration.

James joined the company in 1989 when Intel bought the small California company where James worked, Bell Technologies. James spent four years as technical assistant to Andy Grove in the 1990s when he was Intel's chief executive and chairman. Later, she ran various Intel software initiatives, and ran its Microsoft group before being promoted to head of the software group in 2005. She is a member of The Committee of 200, a group of 400 women business leaders.

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