Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Craig Barrett

Today we honor Craig Barrett, who marks his official retirement from Intel Corp. today. Barrett served as Intel's CEO from 1998 to 2005, and as its Chairman of the Board since then. He has been at Intel since 1974, having come to the company from Stanford University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

When Barrett rose to the top of Intel, he had many legendary sets of shoes to fill, including those of former CEOs Robert Noyce (co-inventor of the integrated circuit), Gordon Moore (author of Moore's Law), and Andy Grove (who oversaw a 4,500% increase in the company's market cap as CEO).

When Barrett took over at Intel, he faced significant challenges. When the company persisted in manufacturing Pentium IV chips "too long," he witnessed rival AMD expand its market share. He immediately set the company on the task of re-gaining a leading position in the marketplace. By continuing the company's level of capital investment during the dot-com bust (a technique of spending pioneered by Andrew Carnegie in the nineteenth century), Barrett was able to bring Intel out of the hard times in a much more favorable position, allowing them to ramp up capacity when demand returned. Paul Otellini, the current CEO, has followed suit and recently announced a $7 billion projected outlay by the company in this tough economy.

As a former manufacturing manager, Barrett also knew the value of keeping manufacturing principles simple and repeatable. He implemented a "copy exactly" concept for his facilities so that everything the company did right in chip fabrication would be the same at every facility, and also so that every problem that was solved could be fixed at every location. As he told the Wall Street Journal, "I got the idea from McDonald's, "I asked myself why McDonald's french fries tasted the same wherever I went. That's what I told my guys, "We're going to be the McDonald's of semiconductors."

That level of consistency is what has helped Intel to regain the leading position in chips in the world today, so much so that the company now faces a massive (and massively unjust) $1.45 billion fine from the EU's antitrust prosecutors. Because of the great achievements he has helped Intel make, we celebrate a living hero of capitalism today, on his official retirement from the company he helped make so great.

Sources:
Intel bio
Wikipedia entry
CNN/Fortune interview
Wall St. Journal Profile
"Farewell" Interview in Forbes

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