The virtual ink was barely dry on the press release that announced Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) president and CEO Paul Otellini's plans to retire in May 2013, when a bevy of news stories popped up speculating about who his successor might be.
As surprising as the news was that Otellini was retiring early (he's 62 and could have stayed on another three years), there may be another surprise awaiting Intel shareholders. Two of the most commonly mentioned candidates to replace Otellini are women: Renée James, head of Intel's software business, and Diane Bryant, head of its datacenter and server business.
While still unlikely, the odds that a woman could be named CEO at Intel are much higher now than just a few years ago. This year's Fortune 500 listed 18 companies led by female CEOs, a record number and up from 12 in 2011. In the tech industry -- where women are seriously under-represented -- the last three years have seen females rise to the top spots at several major technology companies.
Ursula Burns was named CEO of Xerox Corp. (NYSE: XRX) in 2009 and became chairman in 2010. Although not new to the chief executive position, former eBay CEO and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman became president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) in September 2011. At the beginning of 2012, Virginia M. "Ginni" Rometty was appointed president and CEO of IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). Just recently, on Oct. 1, she added the title of chairman of the board. Then there's Marissa Mayer, who jumped ship from Google and was named CEO and president of Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) in July 2012.
That's an impressive list, but notice that none are semiconductor companies. The chip business has always seemed even more male-dominated than other parts of the tech industry. I don't recall many female executives or even chip designers at semiconductor companies, much less CEOs. Intel has had five CEOs in its 44-year history, and all of them have been men.
Intel said it would look both internally and externally for the next CEO, but going outside the company is considered unlikely. If the company stays with an insider, there are five main contenders, says Arik Hesseldahl in his blog at All Things Digital.
The following three were promoted to the level of executive vice president in the same press release that announced Otellini's retirement, which was interpreted as indicating they were top contenders:
- Brian Krzanich, chief operating officer and head of worldwide manufacturing. He is considered the obvious choice, based on Intel's history of COOs moving into the CEO spot. Plus, manufacturing has always been a top priority at Intel.
- Stacy Smith, chief financial officer and director of corporate strategy. Like Otellini, Smith's background is business and not engineering, so if they are looking for an MBA type, Smith fits the bill.
- Renée James, general manager of Intel's software and services group. She is also chairman of McAfee and Wind River Systems, software companies that Intel acquired and made into subsidiaries. In fact, software has become a huge business for Intel. Revenue from software and services jumped from $264 million in 2010 to more than $1.8 billion for Intel last year. James is also a key player in Intel's relationship with Microsoft.
The other two frequently mentioned internal candidates are:
- David Perlmutter, executive vice president, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, and chief product officer. He is responsible for all of Intel's platforms, including datacenters, desktops, laptops, handhelds, embedded devices, and consumer electronics. Of all the candidates, Perlmutter is the purest "semiconductor guy." He was general manager of the microprocessor division, then general manager of the Mobility Group, where he oversaw mobile microprocessor development, including the Centrino and, more recently, the low-power Atom.
- Diane Bryant, vice president and general manager of Intel's sales in datacenters, cloud, and servers, called the Datacenter and Connected Systems Group. The group generated more than $10 billion in revenue in 2011. According to Bryant's bio on the Intel Website, "Intel now powers more than nine of every 10 servers sold worldwide." Previously, she served as Intel's CIO.
Could Intel become the first semiconductor company to smash the glass ceiling? It would be refreshing to see the old boy network of the chip industry shaken up by a woman CEO. In fact, such male-dominated networks may have outlived their usefulness. Now that IBM and HP -- both major Intel customers -- are headed by women, the time may be right for a female CEO at Intel.