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3/2/2010
01:43 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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How Will Sean Maloney's Stroke Affect Intel?

I called Intel to see if I could get some more detail about the condition of Intel executive vice president--and potential future CEO--Sean Maloney, who suffered a stroke earlier this week. Other than noting that he's expected to fully recover, Intel is being very careful about what it's saying. (It's still being a heck of a lot more forthright than Apple was in the wake of CEO Steve Jobs's liver transplant.) I got a few tea leaves from Intel beyond its public statement, so read on.

I called Intel to see if I could get some more detail about the condition of Intel executive vice president--and potential future CEO--Sean Maloney, who suffered a stroke earlier this week. Other than noting that he's expected to fully recover, Intel is being very careful about what it's saying. (It's still being a heck of a lot more forthright than Apple was in the wake of CEO Steve Jobs's liver transplant.) I got a few tea leaves from Intel beyond its public statement, so read on.The press release Intel issued on Monday is pretty much the sole basis for the 150-odd stories (according to Google News) out there on the occurrence. Parsing the sparse release yields four points of information:

  • Maloney suffered a stroke at his home;

  • He is taking a medical leave of absence;

  • His "prognosis for a full recovery is excellent";

  • While Maloney is out, his duties will be assumed by Dadi Perlmutter, the executive vice president who is co-manager, with Maloney, of the Intel Architecture Group. (IAG is Intel's most important group.)

    Clearly, the release is written in such a way as to imply that the stroke was not extremely serious. The choice of the phrasing "at home" and "full recovery" speak to this intent. On the other side of the coin, we have that word "stroke."

    So when I called Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy, I verbally bobbed and weaved as best I could to see if I could extract something more quantitative. No such luck. However, Mulloy was as forthright as he could be, pointing out that Intel is walking a fine line between full disclosure and respect for Maloney's personal privacy.

    Mulloy did say that Maloney is currently "conscious and communicative." So, while I couldn't confirm whether he's still in the hospital or has been discharged, this is the first hard info I've seen as to his current status.

    Moving forward, the big question all Intel watchers are wondering about is how Maloney's illness and recovery could affect his chances of becoming the next CEO of Intel, after Paul Otellini retires. That may not happen for a while, since Otellini is currently 59 and Intel's mandatory retirement age is 65.

    Still, the reason the succession handicapping is even in play is because last September Intel instituted a broad reorganization. (I explored this in Wolfe's Den: Why Intel's Reorg Puts Maloney In CEO Successor Seat, so you know who I've been betting on.)

    The most notable element in the reorg was the consolidation of the chip behemoth's major product groups into IAG, which is jointly run by Maloney and Perlmutter. A neutral observer might naturally assume that both of those gentlemen would thus be seen as having an equal chance to succeed Otellini. However, Maloney has been the pundits' pick, largely because he has a higher public profile and a broader footprint in sales and marketing.

    So naturally I asked Mulloy how Maloney's stroke might affect the CEO succession. Mulloy pointed out that there has been no public disclosure of any succession plans yet. He noted that Intel has four executive vice president -- along with Maloney and Perlmutter, there's Andy Bryant (formerly CFO, now Chief Administrative Officer) and Arvind Sodhani (head of Intel Capital). Intel sees these four as constituting a deep bench, working closely with CEO Otellini.

    Realistically speaking, I suspect that no one really knows what the long-term impact of this stroke will be for Maloney or Intel. Clearly, a glib outsider assessment would say that it deflates the cause of anyone who might be agitating to give Otellini a nudge towards the exit. It also elevates Perlmutter as regards succession handicapping. (Bryant, who is the same age as Otellini, is seen as too old to succeed him. As head of its investment arm, Sodhani would be an unusual choice for a company so techno-centric.)

    Stepping away from my bullheaded business blogging role, I interviewed Sean Maloney on video in April 2009, on the occasion of Intel's launch of Nehalem (clip pasted below). He's a charming and personable individual, who clearly appears to have the chops to run Intel, or any other major tech firm, for that matter. Right now, though, all this stuff pales next to the personal -- albeit private--health issues at hand. I'm sure I speak for everyone who's interacted with Maloney in wishing him a full and rapid recovery.

    Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

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    Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.



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