Intel CEO Swan to be replaced by VMware CEO Gelsinger

Intel has had its stumbles of late and Gelsinger would have to fix manufacturing issues and fend off competition from AMD, Nvidia and the Arm ecosystem.

Intel CEO Bob Swan will step down Feb. 15 and be replaced by VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.

The chip giant said in a statement that the CEO change wasn't related to fourth quarter performance. Intel said it expects to top its fourth quarter guidance delivered Oct. 22. The company added that it "has made strong progress on its 7nm process technology" and will provide an update on Jan. 21 when it reports earnings.

The news, first reported by CNBC, comes as Intel has been struggling with manufacturing issues and competition from the likes of AMD and Nvidia. Intel's latest generation chips have seen delays and AMD is gaining in the data center. 

In addition, Intel's market share faces competition from Arm-based processors such as Apple's M1 chip. In the data center, hyperscale cloud provider AWS is building out its own custom processors based on Arm.

Gelsinger said in a memo to Intel employees:

I look forward to working with all of you to continue to shape the future of technology. While Intel's history is rich, the transformation from a CPU to multi-architecture XPU company is exciting and our opportunity as a world-leading semiconductor manufacturer is greater than it's ever been. I will be sharing more in the near-term about my vision and strategy for Intel, but I know we can continue to accelerate innovation, strengthen our core business and create value for our shareholders, customers and employees.  

Swan became CEO in January 2019 and led the chip giant through a rocky period. Gelsinger, a former Intel executive, led VMware to be a dominant hybrid cloud player and forged a lucrative partnership with AWS. VMware is majority owned by Dell Technologies.

Intel challenges include:

Omar Ishrak, independent chairman of Intel's board of directors, said Gelsinger will "ensure strong execution of Intel's strategy to build on its product leadership and take advantage of the significant opportunities ahead as it continues to transform from a CPU to a multi-architecture XPU company."

For his part, Swan said Intel is at the right juncture to change leadership.

Gelsinger became CEO of VMware in 2012 and has expanded the company's footprint from virtualization to managing clouds overall. VMware's partnership with AWS took two potential rivals and made them are market force in hybrid cloud deployments. VMware also expanded into networking, mobility and security under Gelsinger's watch.

Analysts cheered the Gelsinger move. C.J. Muse, an analyst at Evercore ISI said: 

With the change in leadership (Gelsigner), the near-term partnering with TSMC at 7/5/3nm, and the longer-term benefit of the US government focused on keeping Intel as a leading edge manufacturer in the U.S, it is hard not to think that investors will now change their views on Intel - moving  from glass half empty to now half full. We don't underestimate the meaningful challenges ahead. But with a true operator and technologist now at the helm of Intel (formerly COO EMC and CTO Intel), the odds of success are now greatly improved. 

Patrick Moorhead, principal of Moor Insights & Strategy, said: 

Swan was dealt a difficult hand and 10nm was already off the rails when he was appointed CEO. I think it came down to investor pressure and impatience. Chip problems take years to address and while Swan accomplished a lot, it wasn't enough. 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.

Gelsinger was among ZDNet's top enterprise CEOs of the 2010s. Here's what we said at the time:

Gelsinger ends the decade with a new boss (Michael Dell instead of EMC's Joe Tucci), but what hasn't changed is his commitment to keep VMware an independent company and continue its transformation from a virtualization software vendor to cloud services provider. Taking over the company in 2012, Gelsinger had made strategic partnerships with AWS, Google, IBM, Oracle, Nvidia, Nokia, and others, even when those partnerships didn't directly benefit Dell's bottom line. He's also made strategic acquisitions to help fulfill his "any device, any application, any cloud" vision. VMware bolstered its mobile offerings with the acquisition of Wandering WiFi (AirWatch) and Apteligent. They bought E8 Security in 2018 and in August 2019, announced plans to purchase cybersecurity company Carbon Black. Geslinger's cloud plans have been marked by acquisitions such as Heptio, Bitnami, Avi Networks, and Pivotal (also owned by Dell as part of its EMC purchase).