Sunday, December 9, 2012

Senior Executive Shuffle

As a senior member of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), I am a member of a high powered community. In the following narrative some of the behind the scenes shuffling and rumors are described.

I have never met any of these senior engineers, although I did work in the same division with Mark McDermott when I was in General Products Division working on disk drives for the IBM PC, and I did know many of the early founders of Cyrix when I spent time in Austin working on AIX software.

I am a long time fan of Palm, having owned two Palm Pilots and the Treo smart phone before I got my iPhone. I was very impressed with Palm's new OS and it is possible HP will make a comeback into mobile devices now that they have purchased Palm.

In addition, I've followed Apple's ventures in microprocessors very carefully since they used the IBM PowerPC and then switched to Intel and then started purchasing their own chip foundries.

I think it is very interesting following the intrigue and shuffling at these high engineering executive levels. Not that I'm at the level of senior vice president, or even vice president, but I do report directly to a vice president in a position that requires I advise and consult on technical topics — in my case related to quality. So I often follow all this industry insider news and prognostication.

In addition, I've used HP test equipment since the sixties and I have high respect for HP instruments. I was saddened when HP spun off their test equipment and instruments division to become Agilent. (Sort of like IBM spinning off their Printing Systems division to become InfoPrint Solutions.) In addition, once IBM sold its PC Division to Lenovo, I started buying HP computers.

Beyond that, I don't really have any skin in this game, but I was interested in what was going to happen after Mark Hurd was fired as CEO of HP, since he had led HP growing bigger than IBM by adding consulting services — right out of the IBM playbook. As an ex-IBMer I follow all this intrigue with interest.

So, if you are interested in senior engineers and their influence on technology companies and their products, here is a little tale and rumor mongering for you to follow. Read on...

The name of at least one senior engineering manager may be on the short lists for a senior management slot at both Apple and Hewlett-Packard — Jon Rubinstein. Ruby, as he was known in Apple circles, could be sought after as a replacement for Mark Papermaster who reportedly left his job as senior vice president of devices hardware engineering at Apple after less than 16 months on the job. Rubinstein may also be among candidates to replace Mark Hurd, chief executive of HP who left the company Aug. 6 following a sexual harassment investigation.

Perhaps the most likely scenario for the 52-year-old engineer is that he will stay on in his current role as head of a new mobile devices group at HP. Rubinstein joined HP in April when it acquired Palm where he was chief executive.

Rubinstein's charter is to reinvigorate the smartphone business for the Palm group as part of HP and to extend that business into new product categories such as tablets. Given Palm's recent struggles and how far HP is behind in the burgeoning field of tablets, ebooks, and smartphones, he has his hands full in what is one of the most strategic fields for HP's future.

For that reason alone, HP would be advised to keep Rubinstein focused on the mobile job before him. Indeed, HP needs more of a generalist who can grapple with the company's broad range of businesses that range from desktop printers to data center servers, networking gear and services to run them.

But that doesn't mean Apple would not want back the man who helped drive success for Jobs. Reports from both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal indicated Papermaster lost after just 16 months his post in part due to a fall out with Jobs.

Winning Rubinstein would be a double coup for Apple. Not only would it get back an executive with a long track record working under Jobs, it would steal away from a top competitor the man charged with building an Apple-like position in the market.

Rubinstein is far from the only name on either company's short list. In April, Apple hired Mark McDermott as a senior director as part of its acquisition of circuit-design specialist Intrinsity. McDermott has a long pedigree playing senior director roles in microprocessor design at Cyrix, IBM and Intel.

McDermott's LinkedIn page says Apple is "looking for the best and brightest chip heads" at its Lonestar Design Center in Austin, born in part of the Intrinsity acquisition. (LindedIn is sort of like Facebook for Engineers.) Indeed, Apple has been adding top semiconductor design talent since it acquired low-power processor maker P.A. Semi in April 2008.

According to reports, Apple has already filled Papermaster's slot by giving his responsibilities to Bob Mansfield, senior vice president for Macintosh hardware engineering. Indeed Mansfield, not Papermaster, appeared on stage at a July 16 press conference to talk about antenna problems with the iPhone 4.

Reports said Papermaster's departure from Apple could be due in part to the Antennagate issues around the iPhone 4. Mansfield previously managed work on the Apple A4 processor, the retina display and touch screens used in the iPhone 4.

Originally written on August 23, 2010.

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