Intel CEO: Bob Swan
An Abrupt Resignation
On Thursday, June 21st, 2018 Intel CEO Brian Krzanich abruptly resigned from his position as the head of one of America’s most dependable tech companies. Just before making his decision, he was informed that an internal investigation had been launched with the purpose of looking into a “past consensual relationship” he engaged in with an Intel employee.
Rather ironically, Krzanich championed diversifying Intel’s leadership. The New York Times notes, he “publicly committed the company to increasing the number of employees from groups underrepresented in some technical specialties, including minorities and women.” Yet, here he found himself in the crosshairs of the #MeToo movement.
Intel acted swiftly, as any respectable company must in such a climate. Although the incident had occurred a while back, instead of fighting it out, Krzanich wove his white flag in surrender – sparing himself what was sure to be intense public scrutiny. After five years as CEO and over 30 years with the company, he accepted his $21.5 million in annual compensation and retreated home to his lovely wife, who was also at one time an Intel employee.
Before publishing that enraged tweet condemning corporate America for allowing this kind of behavior to happen, Let’s get realistic. Forbes Senior Contributor, Kim Elsesser, even post #MeToo movement, still finds that “58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. A surprising 72% of those over 50 years old have been romantically involved with a coworker.”
On a more scandalous note, she adds, “Although 19% of employees admitted to stepping out on their partner with a colleague at work, a surprising 44% of employees have known colleagues who had affairs at work or on business trips.”
Remember that even these numbers are conservative, considering 64% of people engaging in office relationships tend to keep their extracurricular activities a secret. The stat that should most concern anybody looking to end hook-ups in the workplace is, “almost three in four (72%) would participate in an office romance again if given the chance.”
We’re all adults, sometimes it’s just impossible to put out a burning flame, and this is why Elsesser concludes that, “with almost three quarters of our employees interested in romance at work, organizations need to step up and guide employees through the entire relationship process.”
Back to the subject at hand, Bob Swan. With Brian Krzanich out of the picture, a power vacuum was created at the tippy top of Intel’s corporate structure. Immediately, the company announced their Chief Financial Officer, being Swan, would take over as interim-CEO while the board searched for a more permanent candidate.
Swan certainly couldn’t be the final solution to Intel’s problems. For starters, he had only been with the company for two years. So vast a supply chain along with some of the world’s most technically complicated equipment required more years and maybe even decades to truly comprehend. In addition, he made it clear to Intel that he didn’t want the position.
Still, he managed to get “interim” dropped from his title and today commands, indefinitely, one of the world’s largest tech businesses.
Swan is a native of Syracuse, New York – having graduated from Corcoran High School in 1978.
In an interview, Yahoo Finance’s Andrew Serwer asks Swan, “Did you want to be the CEO of a tech company when you grew up when you were young?”
To which, Swan replied, “That was the least of my worries. So I grew up in upstate New York. I have eight siblings– all kind of condensed. And you know, my worries at the time were more about, you know, winning the next basketball game and trying to avoid infuriating my brothers at my expense. So that was my biggest worries at the time.”
He continues, “But I grew up with great parents and wonderful siblings. And we’re very tight today. So I was more worried about, you know, being a good sibling, being a son were more things that I was preoccupied with at the time.”
When reflecting on his undergraduate alma mater, the University at Buffalo, he explains to Serwer, “It was a long time ago. But it was great. I mean, I think both the interplay of academics and sports I think were a very important foundation for me in terms of how my career evolved over time. Obviously the academics– the learning, the content– but also rugby for me was a team sport.”
Swan elaborates on his lessons learned from college, telling the UB press blog, “my experiences at UB, both inside and outside of the classroom, taught me that the sum of things can be greater than the parts.”
He continues, “Academically, it wasn’t about learning accounting or marketing — it was about how all those programs come together to advance a business. On campus, it was about sharing ideas with people who weren’t like me to gain a more informed view of the world and how it operates.”
By 1983 Swan had earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and furthermore, in 1985, he completed an MBA at Binghamton University.
After graduating from the University at Buffalo, Swan began his professional career with General Electric.
Over the course of 15 years, he climbed his way into senior financial roles, such as divisional CFO for GE Transportation Systems, GE Healthcare Europe and GE Lighting.
In an article by the UB press blog, Swan mentions, “the expectation drilled into me early in my career at GE was that the role of finance is not about counting the beans — it’s about helping the beans grow.”
He adds, “Overall, finance has evolved this way as well. Now, finance professionals who help grow the beans and build a great business are much more highly regarded than those who just add up and report on the beans.”
Webvan was an online grocery business that promised to deliver goods to customer’s homes within a 30-minute window of their choosing. In retrospect, the company has now garnered a more infamous reputation for being one of the dot-com boom’s biggest busts.
Swan had grown to love life at GE – it’s where he met his wife and best-man. However, he knew it was time for a new challenge.
He tells Serwer, “I never wanted to go anywhere where I would maybe compare each day to GE, because I knew I’d be miserable. So in 1999, if you want to go somewhere there’s no circumstances upon which you will compare to your prior employer, it was coming out to Silicon Valley at the time– and for me, Webvan in particular.”
According to Forbes, the tech company raised $375 million in its 1999 IPO. Despite their bold vision, Webvan was simply unable to sustain a profit and as a result, filed for bankruptcy within only three years of launching.
When asked by Serwer how that experience shaped the leader he is today, Swan responded, “I would say at Webvan, you know, we used to think that we were trying to maybe disrupt the hardest industry at the time.”
He continues, “that is to allow online shopping for things as diverse as fruit, hard goods, meat, eggs, and deliver to your home in a 30-minute window of your choice. It was a very complicated solution, and that’s what I loved about it is how do I leverage my experiences and deploy them into a situation where, you know, survival or failure may solely be dependent on the role I play and how effectively I play it.”
Finalizing his thoughts on the Webvan experience, he concludes, “I was in both the boom days and the bust days. They just happened to be very close together. So for me, I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about making bets while maintaining your focus in a highly, ever-changing environment. So it was a disappointing outcome, but personally and professionally, I learned a lot about how to be a more effective leader.”
It takes a lot of failure to be successful. The encouraging truth is that adversity is what makes us stronger. While this trial, on the surface, seems to resemble a stain upon Swan’s professional record, it perhaps also serves as his greatest example of resiliency.
When the chips are down and nobody seems to be around to lend (forget a hand, but) a word of encouragement is when a person finds out what they’re really made of. Because, at that point, you’re not looking to prove anything to anybody but yourself. Regardless of the outcome, this can lead to the greatest victory of all.
What “victory?” I’ll keep it somewhat cryptic by quoting Paulo Coelho, bestselling author of The Alchemist, he observes, “Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”
TRW was mostly known as an “aerospace” company, however, they also had their hands in several other industries including software, computer circuitry, tech components, etc. Swan served as CFO for a brief period of time.
A point of potential interest, this is the company where the billionaire’s Henry Samueli and Henry Nicholas III first met. The projects they worked on at TRW inspired them to continue inventing outside of the office labs and ultimately led to the birth of Broadcom.
Electronic Data Systems
Electronic Data Systems was a technology equipment producer that eventually got acquired by Hewlett Packard. Swan served as their CFO for a brief period of time.
Legendary eBay CEO Meg Whitman (now CEO of Hewlett Packard) brought Swan onto the team as CFO in 2006. Between his start and 2015, the company would go on an unprecedented performance run with revenue skyrocketing from $5 billion to over $18 billion.
Swan says to Serwer, “Meg Whitman hired me at eBay to be her CFO. And you know, instincts and courage were two of the traits that I got to learn from Meg– incredibly smart, dynamic leader. But the things that really were powering strengths is her ability to see information clearer than everybody else. And with that analytical mind, having the instincts and the courage to take action from the information that she was looking at.”
While with eBay, the finance department flourished. In an interview with the UB press blog, Swan makes a point to note, “I’m proud to say that, from within the eBay system, we promoted more than 30 people out of the company to be CFOs of other businesses…that’s a testament to the eBay leadership team and the role finance played in helping the business grow.”
According to Business Insider, “Swan stayed at eBay for nine years, helping oversee the spinoff of PayPal into a separate company. Once the spinoff was complete in 2015, Swan left — but he’s sat on eBay’s board since 2015.”
General Atlantic is a private equity firm that provides capital and strategic support for growth companies.
On September 8th, 2015, the company made a press release declaring Swan would work as an Operating Partner on the firm’s Resources Group. His responsibilities being, leading the firm’s efforts in supporting global portfolio companies as they grow through strategic mergers and acquisitions and develop their finance functions, as well as working with the firm’s investment team in the internet and technology sector.
The CEO of General Atlantic, Bill Ford, rejoiced at the news of Swan’s arrival, saying, “Beyond his extraordinary talent as a proven CFO, Bob’s deep expertise in the internet and technology sector will make him an exceptional asset to our portfolio companies and prospective new investments around the world.”
Swan’s official statement on joining the company reads, “General Atlantic’s approach of working as close strategic partners with companies that are innovative growth leaders presents an exciting opportunity for me to apply not only my expertise and experience as a CFO, but also my passion for building great teams and mentoring talent.”
He’d spend only a year at GA.
Early Intel Career
Intel made a press release on September 19th, 2016 celebrating the addition of Bob Swan to their executive team. Effective October 10th, Swan would report to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich as Chief Financial Officer and oversee Intel’s global finance and IT organizations, as well as the Corporate Strategy Office.
Krzanich commented on the news, saying, “Bob brings a wealth of leadership and financial experience to Intel. His financial acumen and strategic insight will be welcome additions to our leadership team as Intel’s transformation continues”
Less than two years later, Krzanich’s abrupt resignation took place and Swan was thrust into an interim-CEO role.
Intel Chairmen Andy Bryant provided the following statement to reporters, “The board believes strongly in Intel’s strategy and we are confident in Bob Swan’s ability to lead the company as we conduct a robust search for our next CEO. Bob has been instrumental to the development and execution of Intel’s strategy, and we know the company will continue to smoothly execute. We appreciate Brian’s many contributions to Intel.”
Swan explains to Serwer his reaction to Krzanich leaving the company, saying, “when Brian left fairly abruptly, we were a team that lost, you know, one of our best players and our leader. And the challenge was, how do you step in and fill the void? And I think that’s what I attempted to do. That’s what the board attempted to do. And that’s what the management team attempted to do.”
Swan made it known he had little interest in taking on the CEO position in a permanent capacity. He did, however, want to help buy the board time to find a replacement.
Despite his initial lack of desire for the role, on January 31st, 2019, Bob Swan was formerly announced as Intel’s new CEO.
“As Intel continues to transform its business to capture more of a large and expanding opportunity that includes the data center, artificial intelligence and autonomous driving, while continuing to get value from the PC business, the board concluded after a thorough search that Bob is the right leader to drive Intel into its next era of growth,” said Chairman Andy Bryant.
He continues, “The search committee conducted a comprehensive evaluation of a wide range of internal and external candidates to identify the right leader at this critical juncture in Intel’s evolution. We considered many outstanding executives and we concluded the best choice is Bob. Important in the board’s decision was the outstanding job Bob did as interim CEO for the past seven months, as reflected in Intel’s outstanding results in 2018. Bob’s performance, his knowledge of the business, his command of our growth strategy, and the respect he has earned from our customers, our owners, and his colleagues confirmed he is the right executive to lead Intel.”
Swan describes his change in thought, explaining, “I think during that journey– during that interim time frame, I didn’t start, frankly, wanting to do the job because I loved my day job. And over the course in time, I think both the board– the management team and the employees and myself got increasingly comfortable that I would be the right person for the job. And last and certainly not least, my wife said it was OK.”