Intel’s Interim CEO On The Search For The Next Chief, R&D Spending And The World’s ‘Thirst For Data’

New CEO Coming Soon?

A new CEO for Intel would be announced “in the near term,” the company’s interim chief told CNBC in an interview on Friday.

I don't want to put a time frame on it -- we'll have a wonderful new CEO to lead this wonderful company,” said interim leader Bob Swan, who has said the search continues with a “sense of urgency.”

Swan also spoke about a wide variety of challenges the company may face in the next year, including the impact of the U.S. government shutdown, Brexit and the repercussions of U.S.-China trade tensions. He also discussed how the company is dealing with the world’s “thirst for data” amid geopolitical tensions as well as R&D spending growth.

What follows is an edited version of Swan’s interview with CNBC.

No Time Frame On New CEO

The board has been extremely diligent with a sense of urgency. This is the biggest, best open job in the world. And our input to the board is take the time necessary to get somebody great. In the meantime, we have a wonderful management team and 107,000 committed employees that are extremely focused on delivering for our customers. We're going to be just fine in the interim, but I do expect and hope in the near term -- I don't want to put a time frame on it -- we'll have a wonderful new CEO to lead this wonderful company.

On The Government Shutdown’s Impact

Really strong quarter for us - top line growth - best closed on the best year in company's history. We flagged a few macro concerns, one just we look at the global GDP being relatively strong in '19 but a little bit weaker than it was in '18. And then we have some geopolitical dynamics we think are going to weigh on consumers and enterprise desires to buy, and that's whether it's US-China trade, whether it's U.S. government shutdown, whether it's Brexit. As we enter 2019, we just see a little bit of cloudy macro and geopolitical dynamics that weighed on our outlook for 2019. But at the same time, I would say after coming off a record 2018, our guide for 2019 will be the best year in the company's 51-year history.

On The Continuing Hunger For Data Amid Geopolitical Uncertainty

Two dynamics for us. First the biggest dynamic is the thirst for data and the implications both on the consumer end, on the enterprise side. So we've seen absolutely no slowdown in the growth in demand for workloads in our data center customers. That is very strong. What we are seeing though is the inventory levels after a wonderful 2018 year are going to be burned off as they normally are with our big cloud customers. So they will burn off during the course of the first quarter and we think into the first half, but we expect the end demand to continue to be relatively strong. The other dynamic for us is the PC business has been very stable for us. We had a wonderful 2018. PC TAM, we expect to be relatively flat in 2019, but we're a little supply-constrained in the first half and we expect to eliminate those constraints as we go into the second half, so those two things in particular are what give us the confidence that even though we'll be off to a little slow start that we'll see some recovery in the second half of the year.

On Cost Saving In 2019

First, I would say... over the last several years, we have been much more effective and much more efficient in how we spend our money and more importantly where we spend our money. The where is on the areas that we think can really drive exciting growth for the company in the near, medium and long term. And that growth is what's allowed us to deliver significant operating leverage in the course of 2017 and 2018 time frame. What's really important for us is that we continue to grow R&D. As we've talked before, we think we have TAM in the company's history. And our expectations and desires are to invest in the R&D required to help us win in that big expanse of TAM. Along the way what that means is somethings become less important as we invest in the R&D on the opportunities that we think have the biggest opportunity and that will play out continuously in 2019 as well.

On Consumer Spending Concerns

Hopefully, what we'll see with the constructive dialogues on the U.S-China front, we'd like to see some resolution there so we can get back to healthy and effective trade across borders. Secondly, ultimately we hope to see the U.S government back to work and that cloud will be eliminated. And over time there's going to be some more clarity on the situation with Brexit. If you look at those three situations right now, our belief is that is going to impact consumers and/or enterprises' desire to spend with those clouds as an overhang. We expect those clouds to dissipate over time and get back to a more healthy environment. But right now, we're a little cautious as we look into 2019 and set our expectations for the year.