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Chip Wars: ARM Names New CEO for Fresh Battle With Intel

Warren East, outgoing CEO of ARM Holdings, speaks during the 2012 Open Mobile Summit and Appcelerate conference in San Francisco

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Warren East, outgoing CEO of ARM Holdings, speaks during the 2012 Open Mobile Summit and Appcelerate conference in San Francisco

The chip industry has apparently decided that spring really is a time for renewal. Any day now, Intel (INTC) Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini will name his successor. And on Tuesday, British chip design company ARM (ARMH) revealed that CEO Warren East will retire (PDF) and hand the company over to current President Simon Segars. Perhaps Otellini and East will find an opportunity in the months ahead to share a beer and talk about the good times they had trying to destroy each other.

It makes sense in many ways for both companies to perform a gut check. Intel finally appears on the verge of giving all the ARM chipmakers—Qualcomm (QCOM), Nvidia (NVDA), Samsung Electronics (005930:KS), Apple (AAPL)—a run in the mobile part of the market. That means all of these companies will face Intel’s manufacturing prowess and its relentless march toward better, cheaper chips. Meanwhile, the ARM gang has intentions of attacking Intel’s stronghold in the data center with new types of super low-power server chips aimed at companies such as Facebook (FB) and (AMZN) that buy tens of thousands of the machines. Intel server chips sold under the Xeon brand represent some of its most profitable products, and the chipmaker will do all it can to keep ARM designs at bay.

East arrived at ARM, based in Cambridge, in 1994 and took over as CEO in 2001. During his time as CEO, ARM produced mobile chip designs that have been picked up and licensed by every major cell phone, tablet, and gadget maker. ARM’s low-power technology has become the standard of the device revolution. It’s an inspiring track record of success.

To be frank, though, ARM could benefit from a new, energized public face as its next battles begin. I’ve met East a couple of times, and he’s an affable, obviously smart man but not exactly a whirlwind of personality. One gets the feeling that as ARM goes up against Intel’s marketing and sales whizzes, it will need some added charisma and energy.

Is Segars that guy? We’ll see. Like East, he’s a 20-year ARM veteran. During his run at the company, he’s held engineering, sales, and business development roles. Segars will take over for East on July 1.

Give ARM credit for having such a smooth succession plan. Over at Intel, Otellini announced his pending retirement without tapping a successor. The company has since been weighing internal and external candidates. It’s a weird situation for a company that has historically prided itself on grooming leaders that stick around for a long time.

Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. He is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (HarperCollins, May 2015). Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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