AMD's new CEO likes basketball and the chip maker's future

Rory Read, an ex-IBM executive, wants to look past Intel

WASHINGTON -- Since being hired last August, Rory Read, Advanced Micro Devices CEO, has been reshaping the company.

AMD CEO Rory Read
AMD CEO Rory Read.

In November, Read set plans to cut the company's global workforce of 11,100 by 10%. The company would use the savings to fund initiatives in new technologies and emerging markets.

Read is hiring new upper management. Of the semiconductor maker's top eight executives directly under the CEO, Read has hired three to fill technology leadership roles. Two of the new hires have worked at IBM, similar to Read.

Read recently brought 500 of the company's top managers to a forum in Dallas to launch an initiative for changing the corporate culture, which he calls "The AMD Way." A lifelong basketball player, Read played full-court games with about a dozen of his fellow executives at 5 a.m.

The new CEO has also delivered a wake-up call to his chief rival, Intel, by acquiring SeaMicro, which makes highly dense servers designed for large-scale data centers. In January, SeaMicro announced new products based on Intel's chips. One month later, AMD bought SeaMicro for $334 million.

SeaMicro's intellectual property and engineering talent is "nothing but a positive" for AMD, said Nathan Brookwood, principal chip analyst at Insight 64. AMD now has "a nice solution for the ultra-dense server market and Intel doesn't," he said.

Read is bringing a muscular attitude to AMD that may not be so different from what he learned at IBM.

"Step out of the shadows and lead" is the message that Read said he is delivering to AMD employees. "Don't be in a duopoly following some other industry player," he said in an interview.

Late last week, Read was in Washington to meet with government officials, including the federal CIO, to talk about technology, cloud computing and the semiconductor market. Near the end of the workday, he was in a bar that is practically across the street from the White House, explaining his plan for AMD and a little bit about himself.

Read's father was a 38-year employee of IBM, beginning on an assembly line and moving up to the executive ranks. Rory Read, the youngest of four brothers (he also has a younger sister), graduated with a computer science degree from Hartwick College and took a job with IBM, overlapping employment with his father for about five years.

IBM's intramural basketball league "was a big decision point" in his taking the job, Read said.

Read spent 23 years at IBM, moving up management ranks until he left to become president and COO of Lenovo Group, the company that acquired IBM's PC division.

He doesn't imagine his new company in a perpetual second place. Similar to IBM, he wants to focus on execution and innovation.

Read's hiring of technology executives that have IBM experience on their resumes is something Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, took note of at AMD's recent analyst meeting.

IBM "has pursued a level of excellence that unfortunately has been lacking at AMD over the last few years," King said. "If we're talking about thoroughbreds, these executives all have the right bloodlines," he said of Read's management choices.

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