Intel Could Use a Dose of Andy Grove

on May 11, 2012
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No 286In a presentation to financial analysts on May 10, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said he was not particularly worried about the prospect of Microsoft issuing a version of Windows for ARM processors later this year. “We think [x86 is] a differentiator,” he said. “We have the advantage of the incumbency, the legacy support.”

Maybe he’s right. But it is disconcerting to hear this sort of complacency from the head of Intel, especially at a time when ARM-powered smartphones and tablets pose an unprecedented threat to Intel’s core laptop and desktop business.

I can only wonder what Andy Grove would say. Grove, who was Intel CEO from 1987 to 1998, famously wrote: “Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” Grove also once ordered an advertising campaign attacking what was then the company’s most successful product the 80286 processor, in an effort to get customers to move to the newer, much more capable, and ultimately wildly successful 80386.

Grove remains a senior adviser to Intel and has always avoided any public criticism of his successors. But I find it hard to believe he is happy watching the company he built acting so passively in the face of a threat.

Side note: Intel was actually a major player in the ARM business for some years. It bought Digital Equipment’s StrongARM business in 1998. The chips, renamed XScale, powered many handheld computers and early smartphones. Intel sold the division to Marvell in 2007.