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That time Brian Krzanich had dinner with Elon Musk, Marc Benioff, David Blaine and Lars from Metallica

Intel CEO talks teamwork, not reading books and white privilege

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich doesn't read books.

"I don't read. I don't read books. I don't have time," said BK – as everyone at the chip company calls him – on the second day of the Intel Capital Global Summit. "The last book I read was on the technology of welding; I decided one day I would teach myself how to weld."

That statement is seemingly at odds with what two of BK's board members – former eBay CEO John Donahoe and former PeopleSoft VP Aneel Bhusri – said of Krzanich the day before on stage. The quality that they said ultimately gave Krzanich the CEO job in 2013 – after more than 30 years working at the company – was the fact he was a "learning machine."

If there was one persistent theme about learning during Krzanich's keynote it was that he does it from listening to others' viewpoints – and tries to impose the same approach on others. "I've fired more people for not being able to work in a team than for being dumb," he revealed. "Team skills are more important than most other skills."

He also listed "being humble enough to say you don't know it all" and "being willing to accept feedback and improve" as the two biggest lessons he'd learned from his time at Intel.

Another example of learning: diversity.

Last year, Krzanich made headlines when he announced an aggressive diversity program at Intel – a program that he admits he unwisely omitted to tell his board he was launching.

As opposed to the rest of Silicon Valley – which makes promises to increase the number of women and people of color in their ranks every year and then 12 months' later makes excuses for why they failed again to do so – Intel has taken the task seriously and not only promises to spend money on the issue, but also tied in exec bonuses to meeting diversity targets – targets that have largely been met.

Krzanich said three things led him to decide to take diversity seriously:

  • He decided that as CEO he "should try to do something that's meaningful" and had noticed that despite a seemingly constant effort, the diversity figures were not improving.
  • He spoke of his two daughters, who have technical interests, and how he wanted to "make the industry a little bit better for them; give them an equal chance."
  • He gave an example of where having a diverse team can lead to better products and escape "group-think." He described a whole group of male engineers focused on how to improve some plugin who were at a complete loss until a woman on the team came in and simply suggested they use a bowl – she uses a bowl to put her jewelry in every night. The answer was obvious and staring them in the face, but they all came from the same mindset and so didn't see it.

Role of tech

Related to that, Krzanich argued that diversity of views is going to be increasingly important, particularly with technology playing a greater role in people's lives.

"You can definitely put biases into these systems," he noted when asked about the potential downside to a world where your devices know where and who you are at all times. "Everyone has a bias, so we need enough people's biases to rule them out. As an industry we have to police ourselves, or we'll be policed."

The drive for greater diversity did raise some "ugly" issues however, he noted, top of which was "white male employees who were wondering: what about me? Will I no longer get a promotion? Will my son, just because he's white, not be able to get a job?"

Krzanich noted that these questions – which he called a "backlash" – had come up a few times at open staff meetings that he presides over and his response was that there was "enough room and space for everyone."

"I would say, 'look, we are hiring 5,000 people this year – even if 2,000 of them go to women and people of color, there are still literally thousands of other jobs; we're not cutting anyone out'."

The future

Krzanich still feels that Moore's Law is driving change. Where we had the PC 30 years ago and the mobile phone 10-15 years ago, he feels we are on the cusp of a new "set of transitions" thanks to changes coming from opposite ends of the technology spectrum.

At one end are the machines. Or more exactly machine learning – "what the press likes to call artificial intelligence" – where machines are able to recognize and interpret the world around them and provide meaningful responses to simple requests on the back of huge amounts of analyzed data.

And at the other end is artificial and augmented reality, where the amount of computing that can take place in your end device – your headset or glass – "is going to be phenomenal."

Taken together, "you'll be able to look down the street and see a list of businesses, or you'll ask 'where's my car?' and an arrow will point you toward it." He also sees a "huge opportunity" in people creating content for new devices – everything from giving you the sensation of being courtside at a big game, to learning about the Pyramids by visiting them virtually, rather than reading about them in, yes, a book.

Intel is going to be known as "the experience company," Krzanich argued, reflecting the chip company's rebranding efforts to become hip, new and relevant to a new generation of consumers.

As experiences go however, perhaps Krzanich's most intriguing one happened in the real world. Asked about other tech folk he admired, he listed, among others, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

"He is the most eclectic person I can think of," he noted. "I've actually been for dinner at his house and along with him, Elon Musk and myself, he had invited Lars from Metallica and David Blaine the magician. And I thought 'well this is going to be a wild ride,' and it was."

How wild a ride, unfortunately, he would not divulge. Although it's safe to say that is the sort of dinner that people would be happy to experience through Intel-funded tech. ®

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