SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Since final spring, employees at Intel who turned on their company laptops or wall shows inside the corporate’s greater than 1,000 convention rooms have seen a brand new tagline: “One Intel.”
A plea for unity might sound stunning at an organization that has lengthy had a singular mission of constructing semiconductors. But Intel had a hidden downside, mentioned Robert Swan, its chief government: Its tradition badly wanted an overhaul, and its 110,000 workers wanted to confront points extra brazenly.
“If you have a problem, put it on the table,” mentioned Mr. Swan, 59, who was promoted to the highest job a 12 months in the past and has since launched into a marketing campaign to shake up the Silicon Valley large.
His efforts stay a piece in progress. But the modifications — a few of which lean on the precepts of Andrew S. Grove, the previous Intel chief government who coined the credo “Only the paranoid survive” — are Intel’s greatest angle adjustment in many years.
For years, Intel’s near-monopoly in chips allowed it to dictate how and when pc makers improved their merchandise. But Mr. Swan is focusing on extra markets, which implies Intel will want enter from clients to reach them.
“They were driving everything, and the world was simply having to follow them,” mentioned Robert Burgelman, a administration professor at Stanford University, who has written about Intel and for many years taught a category with Dr. Grove. “Where Bob is doing a great job is to give them some modesty.”
Intel had begun modifying some procedures earlier than Mr. Swan turned chief government, however his emphasis on altering the 51-year-old firm’s tradition has sharply accelerated progress, executives mentioned. The revamp is affecting every part from the designing of chips, which act because the brains of computer systems, to fundamental communication between groups.
Intel is now creating merchandise with enter from a number of teams, one thing it had not likely tried earlier than. To pace product design, Mr. Swan’s lieutenants have arrange smaller groups and damaged up chips into modular blocks of circuitry. And they’ve improved collaboration between manufacturing and design engineers, who had been estranged in recent times.
“They tell us what we need to know, and we tell them what they need to know,” mentioned Jim Keller, a senior vice chairman main chip design efforts. “That’s a big transformation.”
Mr. Swan, who spent 9 years at eBay and 15 years at General Electric, joined Intel in 2016 as chief monetary officer. He turned interim chief government in June 2018, changing Brian Krzanich, who stepped down after the disclosure of a past affair with a subordinate. Mr. Swan got the job permanently in January 2019.
He immediately had a to-do list. Intel had been grappling with slowing growth. More recently, the $237 billion company has been dealing with uncertainty from the coronavirus; China accounted for about 28 percent of Intel’s $72 billion in revenue last year. The uncertainty about the virus is what caused stock markets around the world to plunge last week.
Intel also had deeply rooted problems reflecting its years of dominance, Mr. Swan said. Managers, complacent about competition, battled internally over budgets. Some of them hoarded information, he said.
Most significant, a cultural touchstone had turned into a trouble spot. Intel maintained a near-religious reverence for Moore’s Law, which refers to the co-founder Gordon Moore’s oft-quoted observation that the number of transistors on a chip can be doubled every two years or so.
Yet Intel’s push to reduce a chip’s circuit dimensions to 10 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, wasn’t achieved until mid-2019 — even though the advance had once been expected as early as 2015.
The delay exposed Intel’s overconfidence. Its engineers had promised to pack 2.7 times more transistors in the same space, a risky leap requiring novel production techniques, said Mike Mayberry, Intel’s chief technology officer. And leaders of chip manufacturing gave top management little data about problems, slowing the search for a solution, Mr. Swan said.
All of that cost Intel. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC, and Samsung grabbed the Moore’s Law lead and began making chips for Intel rivals. Delayed from using the new production process — and facing unexpectedly high demand for some products — Intel didn’t have production capacity to make enough chips for PCs. Mr. Swan had to repeatedly apologize for the shortages.
The stumbles had a silver lining of sorts: They proved to Intel’s employees that change was needed. The crises will be among “the best things that ever happened to the company,” Mr. Swan said, adding that dealing with the aftermath was not exactly fun.
Intel began making changes. Venkata Renduchintala, an Intel group president who oversees most product design, ordered a three-month “timeout” in 2018 so engineers could retrace their steps and revise the 10-nanometer production recipe.
Dr. Renduchintala, who is known as Murthy, also pushed more inclusive ways to design products. One example was Lakefield, the code name for an unusual bundle of semiconductors, created by stacking multiple chips to save space. To conceive it, design teams from different groups around the company pitched in ideas, which broke “the rules of how we’ve ever done a product,” Dr. Renduchintala said.
Intel recruited Mr. Keller, an engineer known for stints at Apple and an Intel rival, Advanced Micro Devices, in July 2018 to spearhead other design changes. He set up small teams, instead of the large ones that typically designed most of the chip circuitry from scratch to maximize computing performance. Some of the new teams were directed to develop standard blocks of circuitry that could be reused in different products so engineers could work independently without waiting for others to finish their portions of a chip.
That helped reduce the time needed to make and test chip design changes from weeks to days, Mr. Keller said. Creating an entire chip design can now be as much as three times faster, he said.
Mr. Swan kicked the changes into a higher gear in an open letter after he was named chief executive last year. Besides unveiling the “One Intel” slogan, he exhorted workers to be bolder, to be more attentive to customers and to honor “truth and transparency,” which was code for being more honest about facing problems and collaborating more.
The relationship between Intel’s chip designers and manufacturing had been particularly strained, Mr. Swan said. The manufacturing team, based in Oregon, had been slow to share technical details with the designers out of a desire to prevent leaks that could threaten Intel’s perceived tech lead, current and former executives said.
In contrast, TSMC, the Taiwanese rival, regularly shared data about its manufacturing technology with external designers and incorporated their suggestions.
To spur similar collaboration, Dr. Renduchintala set up a new oversight committee in September 2018 with three executives from the design group and three from manufacturing. Their information flow really picked up after Mr. Swan began pushing his cultural goals, executives said.
Mr. Swan’s mantras also led Intel managers to analyze competing products more closely, improve relations with partners and speed decision-making, executives said.
Sundari Mitra, a vice president who worked at Intel 30 years earlier and returned in 2018, said she had previously encountered bureaucratic traits like too many product review meetings. Taking Mr. Swan’s message to heart, she is cutting those down, while encouraging employees to begin presentations by listing problems rather than what was working well.
If executives “keep dinging them on what is not happening,” which was a tendency in the past, “this culture is not going to change,” she said.
For all the effort, financial benefits of the changes may take years to appear. Yet Mr. Swan keeps trying new tactics, including recently linking employee bonuses partly to “One Intel” improvements measured by employee surveys.
“We have the smartest people in the world,” Mr. Swan said. The question remains, he said, “how do you get them rowing in the same direction?”
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