I get to go to a lot of events and I can see which folks really put the effort into making what they are presenting special and those that either offloaded the effort to some flunky or waited until the last moment to prepare for their talk. I often wonder if folks realize that when they're in front of an audience, they are the face of their company and as such represent a great deal of how the company is perceived. Historically at Intel, it was Pat Gelsinger who set the bar. He was often thought of, at least by me, as the heart of Intel. This year he moved on to help run EMC so I thought I would focus today on those that stood out in my mind as being special.
Deb Conrad, CMO: Hero Squared
Being a CMO at any technology company is a tough job. Most technology companies are run by engineers who have never studied marketing, fundamentally don't understand how to do it or what it is really for, and yet think themselves experts. Even in Apple, a firm that fundamentally gets marketing, the job is very difficult because the CEO generally thinks he is the leading expert. Because we are talking about Steve Jobs, it's hard to disagree with his perception.
In Intel, however, being CMO is nearly suicidal. Before Dennis Carter, the function was thought to be unimportant. After Dennis Carter, Intel changed CMOs so fast that I often thought the job was part of a two-step institutionalized executive termination process. Intel has had a mix of people who knew what they were doing and didn't get the support they needed to get it done, and folks who were clueless. It often seemed like the clueless ones lasted longer because they never actually fixed anything.
After over two decades of watching CMO after CMO get booted, Deb Conrad still took the job because she felt someone needed to fix the mess that Intel marketing had become. Anyone that takes a job with history like the Intel CMO job has, knowing it may be a career ender, in order to try to help their company is a hero in my book. In Intel, Deb is number one on that list in my opinion.
Eric Kim: Making Sense of the Digital Home
At Intel, the concept of a digital home has been badly mangled over the last couple of years, making it a running joke with the code name "Viiv." Even getting up in front of an audience with this topic has to be tough, let alone doing a good job of describing something that folks won't subsequently make fun of. Doing that in a language that isn't native to you adds to the degree of difficulty. It would have been very easy for Eric Kim to simply get up, read some incredibly dull slides and sit down.
Instead, he created a keynote that likely will stay with me for months, if not years. At the core of it was the use of LeVar Burton, the actor who played Geordi La Forge in Star Trek. Hardly the first use of a Star Trek character, as Microsoft has used the leads for Next Generation and Deep Space 9 in past Windows launches (I could go to some length on how lame at least one of those was).
Burton spoke about a topic close to my heart, the idea of imagining "What If?" and creating amazing products and technologies. I can't speak to the developers in the room but I found the topic fascinating and close to what I thought a keynote should be -- inspiring and interesting.
Kim then crafted a future of non-PC devices that you would use to enhance your TV viewing experience and he showcased much of it in use. For once, this looked less like Intel trying to cram technology into a market that didn't want it and more like cool stuff I actually would like to buy.
That's supposed to be the point -- get developers excited about a technology and they'll build the future. Kim, I think, did that, and he didn't have to. I'll remember the idea of "What If" for a long time and am thankful for that.
Justin Rattner: A Visionary CTO
I look forward to Justin's talk every year and unfortunately too often leave wishing I hadn't. For a lot of years, he seemed to me to tread water. This year was the exception. He was on, he was engaged, and he presented stuff that kind of got folks worked up and excited.
Once you reach a top spot, it is easy to kick back, do the minimum, and just not take the risks associated with putting yourself out there and creating a real vision for the future. There is very little reward and you may say something that will piss someone higher up off. This year, Rattner didn't take the safe path and two things he spoke of got me thinking about the market differently.
The first was Light Peak, a new optical replacement to the mess of cabling that, even with HDMI, exists in most multi-media configurations. Light Peak can move up to 100GBs up to 100 meters. That would allow you to move a terabyte of data in 10 seconds, enabling the movement and enjoyment of multi-media files all over the home at different times in HD and beyond.
The other was the architecture for Ubiquitous and Personal TV. The concept would be to tie content to the viewer(s) more tightly and allow them to recommend in real time through the TV to others, receive recommendations themselves, and create an opportunity for advertisers to personally target the ads. For instance, if you are watching a great episode of Big Bang Theory (one of my favorites), you IM or tweet your friends with a recommendation to watch or record it, and advertisers could serve up ads that either tie into the show or your interests (or both). This makes the ads more valuable, making the show more profitable while improving the viewing experience for the audience and the revenue opportunity for the advertiser.
Getting out in front of analysts and reporters with a vision that is likely to be challenged is scary. Doing it well is, in my opinion, heroic. Rattner did it well.
Mooly Eden: Making the Dull Interesting
I want to close by mentioning one more guy. Mooly Eden has to present detailed chip information for the laptop market. This is typically content that has me wishing for a reprieve from Saint Peter. But, with Mooly, he has so much passion for what he is presenting that the result is actually rather interesting. Instead of wanting to chew my arm off and run for the hills, I'm often taken with the performance and stay for all of it. Making incredibly dull stuff interesting and maintaining high energy while talking about a subject you have likely spoken of often and for a long time is incredibly difficult. Mooly makes it look easy and I couldn't finish this piece without giving him credit. We need more like him in the tech market.
Wrapping Up: Sean Maloney
Getting in front of an audience and performing well is done by very few people. Many of the corporate presentations I attend reflect how uncommon greatness is. Each of these people performed on stage to a very high standard. Deb Conrad stands out in this group as someone willing to try the impossible even if, in so doing, it ends her career. Sean Maloney is in line for the CEO job and is required to be excellent on stage. I was actually surprised by how good he did but since he is in the hunt for the top job, I don't think his excellent presentation is as much of a risk as it is for these others. Still, for the first time, I thought he might actually make a good CEO.
Overall, I think we analysts are often too critical and don't focus enough on people who do good work. I figure I should try to fix that. From time to time, I'll call out those who stand out from the crowd, as these Intel folks did, and make their company proud.