Paul Otellini, who steered what was then the world’s largest chip maker through the decline of the Wintel duopoly and the rise of the smartphone, died yesterday at the age of 66.
Otellini was CEO of Intel from 2005 through 2013, a timespan during which the rise of mobile devices and cloud computing shook both Intel’s consumer and enterprise chip businesses. Intel famously missed out on the mobile boom, but came to dominate the market for chips that power cloud computing, and despite missed opportunities, the company still remained quite profitable under his watch.
“We are deeply saddened by Paul’s passing,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement released Tuesday morning. “He was the relentless voice of the customer in a sea of engineers, and he taught us that we only win when we put the customer first.”
Otellini was an Intel lifer, joining the company in 1974 — six years after it was founded by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore — and working his way up the ranks. A stint as chief of staff for legendary Intel CEO Andy Grove prepared him for the leadership role he eventually assumed after Craig Barrett stepped down in accordance with Intel’s policy of having CEOs retire at age 65.
As Krzanich alluded to, Otellini was the first non-engineer to take the helm at Intel, which was considered somewhat controversial at the time among the rank and file. Inside a company known for its culture of “constructive confrontation,” Otellini was a soft-spoken but resilient voice, unafraid to change a lot of Intel’s core operations in response to new market forces upon taking the top spot.
While Intel’s failure to crack the smartphone processor market — especially after Otellini forged a personal and business relationship with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs — continues to hang over the company, Intel increased revenue by 55 percent over his tenure.
Such sad news. Paul was a great leader for Intel, a strong partner, and a wonderful man to work with. Prayers. ? https://t.co/ECvqlI2QS1
— ?Steven Sinofsky ॐ (@stevesi) October 3, 2017
Otellini helped polish Intel’s famously tight relationship with Microsoft into a finely tuned machine that set the agenda for the PC market, back when that still mattered. Despite his breakthroughs with Apple, the perennial thorn in Microsoft’s side, Intel and Microsoft worked in lockstep during the 2000s to make hardware and software advances that PC makers turned into final products.
Otellini was forced to handle the downside of that duopoly during his tenure, agreeing to a $1.25 billion settlement with Advanced Micro Devices. Intel claimed it had done nothing wrong, but years of industry complaints about anticompetitive volume pricing strategies that more or less forced low-margin PC and server makers to use Intel’s chips had started to take their toll.
A San Francisco native, Otellini is survived by his wife and two children.