Karen Walker Intel CMO chief marketing officer

New Intel CMO: Right Person, Right Time

Intel is at a turning point, along with the entire industry. It appears that the model that created the company—where the key components for industry products, PCs and Servers, don’t come from vertically integrated companies—is at risk from firms like Apple and models like ARM. Besides, the entire ecosystem is pivoting to the cloud, and initiatives like the Windows Virtual Desktop are changing the dynamic, which could turn the entire PC market into something more like the phone market under AT&T or the terminal market under IBM as it existed decades ago.

Intel’s image has suffered due to bad decisions surrounding security, competition, and a past CEO who set the bar for bad behavior. Given Intel’s image is under pressure you’d expect them to protect and back their CMOs but that hasn’t been the firm’s history with CMO tenure often measured in months and defined by a level of bad treatment, not from them but to them, that makes the word “cruel” seem inadequate.

But Intel still has some of the most qualified people in the segment. They have a new CEO that is a refreshing blend of competence and compassion, and they just got a new CMO who, in her prior job at Cisco, was instrumental in fixing similar problems.

<href=”#gs.82rcqr”>Karen Walker is the right person at the right time to carry the Intel CMO banner.

Let’s talk about that this week.

Fixing a Culture

Intel has one of the harshest cultures of any company I cover. It has had both the best component marketing effort I’ve ever seen—the Intel Inside Bunny Man campaign—and the worst the campaign where they used the guy from the Big Bang Theory (who’s character constantly made bad choices) as a spokesman. They gave a CMO, Dennis Carter, the tools and resources he needed to redefine a market and treated another CMO, Debra Conrad, so badly that she remains one of the most abused executives I’ve ever met. And the culture in Intel is particularly harsh. They have an interesting concept called “Constructive Confrontation,” which implies listening to avoid mistakes, but instead seems to promote abuse as a practice to further a personal agenda.

It is difficult to fix a toxic agenda, particularly if the CEO is as toxic as Intel’s last CEO was. But there is a new sheriff in town with <href=”#gs.82qz48″>Bob Swan, and he is building an impressive team of like-minded executives to help drive needed change at Intel. You have to drive cultural change top-down because, even with unions—which the tech industry currently lacks—driving it from the bottom up doesn’t seem to work.

The latest addition to that team is Karen Walker as CMO, and just as she helped drive needed change at Cisco, she is in an ideal place to drive change at Intel if Bob Swan has her back, and that appears to be the case.

The Power of Marketing

Marketing is a hidden skill in any company. Its job is to define the external image of the firm, but that work can also define how people that work in the firm see it. The related skill set is one of manipulation, and it works like a lever to move heavy objects that no other department has the power or influence to affect. It is a force multiplier, but while it can mitigate bad executive decisions or the problems associated with uncompetitive products, it performs best when it is used to increase the impact of good executive decisions and showcase products that are properly targeting actual customer needs. On this last, it can even change those customer needs, as Apple demonstrated when they flipped the smartphone market from a business to consumer orientation. Two historic ex-CEO—Steve Jobs from Apple and Louis Gerstner at IBM—understood the power of marketing and did things folks thought were impossible as a result. I’d add <href=”#gs.82pyd6″>Andy Grove, the most revered Intel CEO to that list because his work with Dennis Carter remains legendary both inside and outside of that company. And it is both sad and ironic that none of their successors understood or could use the power of marketing as successfully.

It is also interesting to note that unlike engineering, which is predominantly male, marketing is much more balanced, and some of the best marketing experts in the world are women. So, if you want to drive skills-based diversity into a firm, and particularly if you want more women to buy your products, marketing is typically the division that can best execute those strategies.

Wrapping Up: Karen Walker Right Person Right Time

Now typically, you’d want a top ingredient marketing executive to have the CMO job at Intel, but that pool is so shallow that finding one of those is like finding a unicorn—virtually impossible. This shortage is because ingredient firms just aren’t known for strong marketing, and that is a shame because Intel demonstrated with their Intel Inside effort that with the right team and backing an ingredient firm can take on giant vertically integrated firms like IBM and Sun Microsystems and win.

Karen Walker’s background at HP and Cisco, where she ran into similar problems and made huge contributions, showcases she is the ideal candidate to help Intel on its mission to become both a better ingredient vendor and a better place to work. Her efforts to showcase Cisco’s excellent Corporate Social Responsibility effort, humanize the firm, and get customers to understand Cisco’s unique advantages made her a bit of a legend in the industry and those same skills, with the help of Bob Swan and his hand-picked leadership team, could turn Intel into an even stronger marketing company than it was under Andy Grove.

While I think there is still one glaring problem above Karen’s paygrade that needs fixing, Intel continues on what appears to be the right path both for both customers and employees, with this latest staffing decision supporting that argument. In short, Intel needed someone that had the backing and background to kick-ass. They got both with Karen Walker.

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