System Builders Look To New AMD CEO For Change

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday appointed Lisa Su president and CEO in a move it said will help the semiconductor company crack open new markets and simplify its go-to-market strategy with partners.

Su's appointment is effective immediately. She succeeds Rory Read, who is stepping down after three years at the helm.

"AMD has completed its first two steps in transforming itself," Read said during a Wednesday call with analysts and press. "It's Lisa's time now."

Su, who joined AMD in 2012, has been AMD's COO since July, and before that served as senior vice president and general manager for AMD's global business unit. Su's COO tenure was part of AMD's restructuring to focus more aggressively on "high-growth" areas. Su has previously worked at Freescale Semiconductor, and she also spent 13 years at IBM.

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The 44-year-old Su said during the call with analysts that Read accomplished two important goals as part of AMD's restructuring plan. She said he brought financial stability to the semiconductor maker and made it less reliant on the shrinking PC market and computer graphics business by turning the company's focus towards the ARM processor architecture, GPU processors and helping the company push into the game console market.

The next step for AMD, Su said, is to move more aggressively into new embedded devices, semi-custom SoC solutions, opportunities related to the Internet of Things and more development around ARM.

In a nod to channel partners, Su said that one of her priorities will be to strengthen the company's relationship with channel and OEM partners.

"These are the ways AMD can build more strategic relationships and a stickier business," she said during the call.

Under Read's leadership, AMD branched out beyond the PC microprocessor business and has found success providing processors for video game consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Read was also credited with cutting operating costs by 30 percent while bolstering cash reserves to $1 billion.

When AMD in 2008 sold its chip fabrication facilities, it should have been a signal that the company would one day be a woman-led organization, said Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based custom system builder and AMD partner.

"Back about 1993 or 1994, Jerry Sanders, the AMD CEO at the time, said, 'Real men have fabs,'" Swank told CRN. "Now AMD doesn't have a fab."

NEXT: Still Plenty Of Opportunities For AMD

AMD still presents a lot of opportunities in areas such as servers and the cloud, Swank said. However, it is operating in a very different world from the 2000s when it actually led arch-rival Intel in terms of technology, he said.

"Back then, we were booming with AMD," he said. "It was very relevant to the industry."

However, that is changing as the processor industry changes, Swank said.

"Today, it's less Intel vs. AMD and more Intel vs. ARM," he said. "Now AMD has an ARM line, but that puts the company in competition with a lot of smaller developers."

Dominic Daninger, vice president of engineering at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based custom system builder, said his company is in a wait-and-see mode with AMD.

Both Daninger and Swank said AMD has made serious cutbacks in field and sales reps in their geography which has resulted in less contact between them and the vendor.

"We've seen a drop in field engineers and sales reps, probably the result of a lot of attrition," Daninger told CRN. "We're a little in a vacuum with AMD due to the lack of people."

AMD's move to embrace ARM and the company's advanced GPU technology keeps AMD relevant to the system builder channel, Daninger said. What remains to be seen is what AMD will do to keep competitive with Intel.

"Multiple people hope AMD survives," he said. "Intel certainly hopes AMD survives. If there's no AMD, it does not become a competitive issue to Intel. It becomes a government issue because of concerns about the microprocessor industry having a single dominant player."

Andy Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data, a Fremont, Calif.-based custom system builder, told CRN via email his initial reaction to the news of the executive change was that he was not sure Su could do any worse than prior AMD executives.

"My only concern would be that she further alienates the system builder channel by concentrating even more on the mobile and semi-custom spaces while pulling AMD further out of desktop processor production," Kretzer wrote. "I suppose time will tell."

Read is expected to remain with AMD in an advisory role through 2014.

"I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead such a talented team and proud of what we have accomplished during such an important chapter in the company’s history," Read said in a statement. "Together, we have established the right strategy to enable AMD to continue to grow and transform. I am confident that Lisa is the right leader to drive AMD forward."