Sean Maloney will return to the spotlight as one of Intel's most important executives on May 31 after several months of medical leave and a gradual return to work at the processor giant.
Maloney, who shares the title of executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group with David "Dadi" Perlmutter, will give the keynote address that day at Computex in Taipei, the event of the year for Taiwan's electronics industry. It will mark his most prominent public appearance since he suffered a stroke at his home early last year.
Since his elevation to his current role along with Perlmutter in 2009, the dynamic former chief sales and marketing officer has been seen as a possible successor to CEO Paul Otellini.
Industry analysts would not speculate on what effect his leave might have on the internal politics of Intel, where Otellini has held the top job since 2005. But it's clear that mobility, an area that has held great interest for Maloney, will play a key part in the company's work over the next few years.
Intel disclosed Maloney's medical leave on March 1 of last year. In June, at Computex 2010, Maloney appeared briefly on video during an Intel presentation and said he would be back at work by the end of the year.
He returned to Intel part time in January and has gradually worked his way back to nearly full-time duty, and is often seen on the company's campus, Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said Wednesday. Maloney's recovery is complete except for some speech therapy, he said.
"He's fit. He's doing well," Mulloy said.
At Intel's financial analyst conference on Tuesday, Maloney was in the audience during the main presentation and was not introduced. But later, he previewed his Computex keynote for a small group of industry analysts. Though he spoke more slowly than the rapid pace he's known for, he strode on stage and engaged the audience as always, according to analysts who attended the session.
"It is really phenomenal what he's done, because from what I hear, he came back from a very bad situation," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat. "He had to learn to talk. It's phenomenal to see the progress he's made."
Maloney, an enthusiastic advocate for Intel who has worked at the company since 1982, was seen by some observers as the most obvious candidate to replace Otellini. He is still one of two clear front-runners, along with Perlmutter, In-Stat's McGregor said. But the possible impact of Maloney's leave on Intel's future is hard to know, said Insight64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. "There's more doubt now about whether he would ... assume that CEO role at some future date than there was prior to the stroke," Brookwood said.
Some of the key tasks Intel now faces are in the area of mobile devices, which fall under Maloney and Perlmutter's purview as the guardians of the Intel processor architecture and have been a particular area of interest for Maloney. He was a key cheerleader for Wi-Fi and became the prime evangelist for mobile WiMax as it was standardized and commercialized in the latter part of the past decade.
Intel is now aiming at smartphones and tablets, regardless of the wireless technology they use, and trying to gain chip share in these fast-growing platforms, Brookwood said.
Since he returned to Intel, Maloney has been working to get the company focused on phone and tablet processors, Brookwood said. Intel's market share in both categories is negligible compared with the dominant ARM architecture used by most other mobile chip manufacturers. Most of the mobile ecosystem, including hardware designers and software developers, revolves around ARM, he said.
At least at Computex, Intel will go up against that rival with a man not unfamiliar with challenges.