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Facing the Big Questions About Intel’s Future After CEO Krzanich

June 22, 2018, 4:21 PM UTC

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The surprise departure of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich shocked the tech world on Thursday, left one of the world’s biggest chipmakers in the lurch, and prompted a host of questions.

The most immediate, perhaps, is whether we have the full story on the 58-year-old executive’s behavior that forced him to resign. Intel said Krzanich violated the company’s strict non-fraternization policy in “a past consensual relationship.” But the company also said the investigation is ongoing.

A more pressing question is who becomes the next CEO of Intel (interim CEO and former CFO Bob Swan is saying he won’t be in the running). Though no one would confuse the average height Krzanich with 6-foot, 5-inch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in an elevator, both seem to have a penchant for driving away possible successors. We may never know all the details about why so many well-regarded and longtime Intel execs left on Krzanich’s watch but the list includes Stacy Smith, Diane Bryant, Renee James, Kim Stevenson, and Kirk Skaugen. Some, like Bryant who is overseeing much of Google’s (GOOGL) cloud business, landed quite well—like Brady’s former understudy Jimmy Garoppolo, who is now in the Bay Area as star quarterback for the 49ers. Still, one or more of the Intel departees could be considered in the search that Intel’s board says will look at internal and external candidates. Also keep an eye on Murthy Renduchintala, the savvy engineer and manager Krzanich recruited from rival Qualcomm (QCOM) in 2015, who is now Intel’s group president running many key areas.

But after you’ve answered the immediate question and the most pressing question, you come, of course, to the most important question. After Krzanich’s five-year tenure, is Intel poised to thrive or dive in the next decade of tech evolution? The evidence is mixed.

Krzanich certainly did little to get Intel back in the game for mobile CPUs, though he did win half of Apple’s wireless modem business. Something also seems severely amiss in Intel’s manufacturing advancement, as rivals have drawn even and possibly surpassed its chipmaking prowess, fueling the competitive threat of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Apple may be about to fly the coop and build its own Mac CPUs, too.

Will Intel be a major player in the coming wave of VR gear sales? Seems unlikely. The huge acquisitions of Altera and Mobileye cost shareholders $32 billion, but it’s too soon to know if they will make Intel a leader for AI chips and self-driving car silicon, respectively (or even if placing big bets on those incipient markets as future winners was correct). And while Intel’s server chips are winning a lot of cloud data center orders right now, Krzanich may have been late to recognize the growing threat from graphics chip maker Nvidia (NVDA).

So even as he departs his corner cubicle at Intel’s (INTC) Santa Clara HQ, it’s too soon to close the book on Brian Krzanich. I’ll have to get back to you in about five years.

(Update: This story was updated on June 22 to correct that Doug Davis has not left the company.)