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Rory Read to step down as AMD CEO: Lisa Su to Take Over

by on09 October 2014 4580 times

In any technology based company there is a need for strong leadership. The problem comes in finding the right person to take the role of leader. We have seen how much of an impact the right and wrong choices can make in companies like Apple and AMD. As current CEO Rory Read prepares to step down we are taking a look at AMD and their leadership over the years. With AMD they have fought the battle of leaders ever since the tenure of Hector Ruiz. Ruiz is possibly one of the most universally disliked CEOs that AMD has ever had. Most will put AMD’s current situation squarely in his lap.

It was during the Ruiz tenure that AMD bought ATi and amassed a massive debt that forced a spinoff of their FABs to another company. It also resulted in a form of Musical Chairs game for the spot of CEO once Ruiz was out of the picture. This time frame created a lot of confusion in the company and saw many talented staff exit for more stable employment. Finally it looked like AMD found the right CEO in Dirk Meyer, one of the people directly responsible for the Athlon and AMD’s moment of CPU supremacy.

Sadly, whatever Meyer’s strengths as an engineer and project leader he was not suited to run an entire company. Meyer was much more focused on the CPU side of the business and allowed the GPU side of the house to slip. He also was never really able to get his vision of where AMD CPU should be off the ground. He was let go after he failed to produce the Bulldozer core in the time frame promised. This forced AMD to run leaderless until Rory Read was brought in. Read had to immediately shift upcoming APUs (Trinity) away from the Bulldozer core to the Piledriver core which caused a delay of about a year in the roadmap for the next generation of APUs Kaveri.

Read also had some other issues to deal with when he took over. AMD was still trying to compete head to head with both Intel and NVIDIA. They were failing pretty badly at both and wasting a ton of money doing it. Read took over a company that was almost two full nodes behind Intel and having problems with the yield of that to boot. He was in a contract with Global Foundries that was very bad for the company and no real direction from either the CPU or GPU side of the house. To say it was a mess is an understatement.

Read made a rather shocking decision: AMD would no longer compete with Intel directly in the desktop or enthusiast market. They would shift focus to emerging sectors of the market and combine the best of the CPU and GPU world to build a better product. It was an announcement that we saw coming based on Read’s past. While at Lenovo he pushed the mobile market pretty hard and had some ideas for both tablets and phones that were a little ahead of their time for most companies. This decision sparked the second exodus from AMD in terms of people being let go and leaving of their own volition.

Still Read stayed the course and also fell back on some concepts that helped AMD in the old days. He rebuilt many of the strategic partnerships that AMD had and created a few new ones to help AMD foot some of the bill associated with research and development of new technologies. Some of this included purchasing technology that made sense (at the time) including ARM licenses, SeaMicro and a few other items that fill in the gaps in AMDs product line up. One of the items that AMD has struggled with on the CPU is memory and caching performance which the ARM licenses are supposed to help out with. Before you scoff at this remember that the Athlon was based on the RISC DEC Alpha CPU and their EV7 buss/ AMD is now looking to another RISC processor to help them with their mobile products and increase memory and caching efficiency. Sadly much of this has yet to see the light of day and appears to be little more than vaporware to get investors interested.

Read also had to make AMD appear to be stable financially. To do this he pushed much of AMD’s debt out to 2019 and helped to keep their cash stable at around $1 Billion. This has had a pretty big impact on the money that AMD can spend for R&D which has turned into some underperforming products over the last few years. Read has also seen AMD slow down on the development of new GPU products as he focuses on mobile and the console. The disappointments on almost all fronts of AMD’s business has hurt them in the market despite their appearance of stability and the “win” of a contract with both Sony and Microsoft for next generation consoles.

In other words Rory Read has paved the way for AMD on the business side of things, but is not the right person to lead AMD from an engineering standpoint. He did try to bring in Lisa Su as the COO to get the engineering perspective, but in the end AMD needs more than a good businessman with a mobile vision. The fact that Read appears to recognize this is a good thing although there is concern that Su will not be able to maintain the business side of the equation.

The announcement also will appear to be rather sudden despite AMD claims that it is a planned event. To investors and consumers this will look like Read is either leaving because he has no confidence in AMD’s future or that AMD has no confidence in Read and his vision for AMD. It is going to make Lisa Su’s first few months very delicate. She will need to maintain the course that Read laid out with little to no deviation so that both investors and consumers maintain their trust in AMD’s course. This could be part of the reason that we will not see too many new desktop products from AMD until Mid to Late-2015. We might also see delays in GPUs and APUs as AMD tries to maintain their image and consumer trust.

AMD has not been executing well since the days of the Athlon 64 x2 CPU and they continue to overpromise and underperform on many of their CPU and APU products. Until they can turn this around none of the business deals or R&D partnerships they have formed will amount to anything. Read stepping down in favor of a more engineering based leader might bring back confidence in the technological direction of AMD, but unless Lisa Su can keep the business stable, return to profitability and show technology leadership AMD will continue to languish behind Intel and NVIDIA for a long time.

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Last modified on 09 October 2014
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