Rory Cellan-Jones

Intel's quiet but passionate boss

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 Apr 08, 22:45 GMT

So who are the three most powerful figures in the technology industry right now? How about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini.

"Paul Who?" I hear you cry and you'd be right because Mr Otellini has nothing like the visibility of either of the other two.

Paul OtelliniHe is a rather grey, managerial figure - compared with the uber-geek Gates or the charismatic and slightly scary Jobs.

But if you believe that Moore's Law is what has driven the growth of the entire computing industry in the last three decades and that Intel has been at the forefront of applying the logic of the law, then Mr O is a pretty important guy.

So we were pleased that Intel's chief executive agreed to answer questions sent in by BBC readers, viewers and listeners.

And when we met in a rather nondescript hotel room in London's docklands, I found he had plenty of interesting views about our technological future, coupled with a touching fervour about his company.

For unlike Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who have built their companies in their own image, Mr Otellini has been built by Intel, a company he joined 34 years ago.

It's a business with a more conservative culture than is typical of the technology industry, so it was no surprise that its chief executive arrived for our interview in in a grey suit and tie, rather than the black sweater or open-necked shirt favoured by many of his peers.

We had half an hour - he had just been in one long client meeting and went straight out after our allotted time into another.

He arrived carrying with him a small capsule which summed up what he wanted to say about Intel. It contained a thousand of the new Atom chips (Mr Otellini said someone had been asked to count them into the jar), processors designed to power the mobile internet devices Intel believes are the Next Big Thing.

The Atom will compete with the low-power chips made by ARM, currently dominating the smartphone market, and it's by no certain that Intel will win this battle.

Mr Otellini, who has seen Intel extend its lead over AMD after faltering a few years back, knows that this is an industry where, in the words of one of his more colourful predecessors, "only the paranoid survive."

So he wanted to push the message that, whatever the charges that Intel is an arrogant monopoly, this is an industry where constant and rapid innovation can turn a winner into an also-ran every 18 months.

Mind you, Paul Otellini didn't seem too paranoid - except about my suggestion that he try switching off his Blackberry for an hour or so and letting the e-mails pile up.

He seemed slightly puzzled by the sheer range of questions - from the Nigerian who wanted to know why the Classmate project wasn't moving more quickly, to the Iraqi who wanted to know what Wimax would offer his country, to the man from Northampton who wanted to know why a PC can't be turned on and off like a television .

But he handled them all with aplomb, showing just a modicum of irritation when I brought up Nicholas Negroponte's charge that Intel had acted in bad faith when it pulled out of the One Laptop Per Child project.

And his final answer showed that beneath the grey suit and measured words, Paul Otellini can be passionate about the company where he has spent more than half of his life: "It's not often that a corporation can say with legitimacy that I've changed the world, because of what I do the world is a better and different place. Where would the world be without what Intel has built?"

And with that, he picked up his briefcase and his capsule of Atoms, and hurried off into another client meeting.


Smart. Thanks.

  • 2.
  • At 09:16 AM on 09 Apr 2008,
  • KD wrote:

I was quite disturbed at the gross mischaracterization of the OLPC project's approach that appeared in the article "Intel 'will survive US recession'".

Otellini is quoted as saying that OLPC's approach is to get the kids on the internet and turn them loose.

That is grossly inaccurate; enough so that I think I'd call it an outright lie.

Access to the internet is a vary minor part of the OLPC's approach. Their approach is to provide a tool to support better methods of education in disadvantaged communities. One of the things that tool provides is easy collaberation among the students in a class and with the teacher. Any communications outside of that are not critical, and, indeed, some of the first adopters will not have internet connections.

I'm quite disappointed that the article let that gross misrepresentation go unchallenged.

(Hmmmm. Preview seems not to be working; I'm going to post without previewing, though I don't like to do that.)

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