Having a well-understood vision was one of Thomas Watson Jr.’s lessons when he was CEO at IBM. He was such a big believer in including everyone he would, when visiting a remote plant site, randomly select employees and ask them about IBM’s vision and how they fit within it. If they couldn’t answer, he didn’t punish the employee but their management. A company vision is, in broad strokes, where the leadership intends to take the company, and it keeps the employees focused on what the CEO thinks is essential.
I was reminded of that this week when Pat Gelsinger set the vision for Intel. I was also reminded of the foundational elements needed to create a vision that can be executed. A vision is also critical when choosing to do business with a vendor because it tells you what that vendor intends to do, and if you know enough about the vendor, whether they are likely to be successful. If the vendor is going in a direction you don’t like or can’t execute, then picking a different vendor would be advised.
Let’s talk about the importance of vision when running a company or choosing a vendor this week.
The Importance of Vision
Years ago, when I worked at IBM and Louis Gerstner was CEO, there was a bit of a scandal because Gerstner didn’t want to articulate his vision for IBM. Now it was clear that his reasoning wasn’t that he didn’t believe in having a vision; he didn’t have the technical background necessary to set one.
A corporate vision statement allows the rank and file employees to prioritize their work effort and determine whether they are strategic or not. Bill Gates was famous at Microsoft for pivoting the company aggressively when faced with a strategic challenge, like the internet, and then executing on the new direction defined by his vision. You knew what parts of the company were and were not strategic and you could plan both your career if you worked there and your purchases if you were a customer accordingly.
A Vision isn’t Set in Stone
Going back to Thomas Watson Jr., one of the other critical lessons he taught was that a company, to survive, needs to be willing to change everything but who they are. That means you first need to know who you are, and that was Gerstner’s problem because he had no clue what IBM was; he didn’t have the background for it. Now Gerstner was a turnaround manager, so he was brought in to stop the company from bleeding and get it back to profitability. Even if he set a vision, it is unlikely IBM could have executed it as a result.
But even when a Vision is set, it must change to reflect the changes in the market; otherwise, the company will flounder. It must be specific enough to tell stakeholders what is strategic, but flexible enough to adjust for the physical realities that are constantly changing around the firm.
Pat Gelsinger’s Vision
Pat Gelsinger set both a tactical and strategic vision in his talk this week. The tactical side spoke to flawless execution, bold innovation, a vibrant culture, and segment leadership. But the more strategic and subtle part of this vision was even more enjoyable. It was about pivoting the company to provide FAB Services, being the U.S. strategic FAB resource, and, with an impressive list of partners, drive a pivot into the market similar to what IBM, Intel, and Microsoft did when they created the PC. Bringing together that old team again on stage was a critical component not only in showcasing the vision, but also Intel’s willingness to collaborate to drive it forward. He even brought in new partners like Qualcomm who could collaboratively drive a new, more cloud-focused future.
Gelsinger could do this rapidly because he already knows a great deal about Intel’s capabilities and those of his partners. This foundational background allowed him to hit the ground running and provide the needed detail to set a direction within Intel and its partners.
Reading the Roadmap
Pat Gelsinger this week provided a strong example of what a business vision should be when he spoke about the future of Intel, Intel’s powerful partners, and his focus on piloting the company towards more of a team player and Fab Services provider. Both IBM and Microsoft’s CEOs spoke in support of the effort, and he even spoke about Intel becoming more of the U.S. leader in semiconductor fabrication than they currently are. On this last, Intel is even bidding for the Strategic FAB the U.S. is planning to build to help deal with the semiconductor shortage.
To do that, he spoke about more flexible architectures, the use of Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography, and improvements in application scale processing. But the big thing is that Gelsinger has an executable vision in the first place. Those that paid attention saw a significant indication that the industry is about to make a massive pivot. With Intel’s new vision, we can estimate that pivot will begin in the first half of this decade.
A strong vision provides strong direction when correctly done. It increases the odds that a company will succeed because it provides a roadmap for everyone on how to effectively execute strategic plans. What makes Pat Gelsinger a leading CEO is that he doesn’t just know how to read a map; he knows how to make one, and his vision is the map to Intel’s future.