AMD's chip chief departs, as do other key execs

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AMD chip chief John Byrne has left the company, accompanying AMD’s chief strategy officer and its chief marketing officer out the door, according to the company.

Byrne, as well as chief marketing officer Collette LaForce and chief strategy officer Raj Naik, have left to pursue other interests, according to AMD and a report from Reuters. AMD announced Byrne’s departure in an 8K filing that noted he’ll stay on until the end of March to assist with the transition. An AMD spokesman confirmed the departure of LaForce and Naik as well. 

Chief executive Lisa Su (above), a well-regarded executive that has held a variety of executive positions at AMD before being named CEO in October, will take over Byrne’s role, according to reports. But it’s unclear who will step in and fill the shoes of LaForce and Naik in terms of guiding and marketing AMD’s chips in the long term. For now those responsibilities will be handled by Harry Wolin, AMD’s senior vice president, general counsel and secretary, the spokesman said.

“These changes, including the additions of Forrest Norrod and James Clifford to our management team last quarter, collectively are part of implementing an optimal organization design and leadership team to further sharpen our execution and position AMD for growth,” the AMD spokesman said in a statement.

Su promptly announced plans to lay off about 7 percent of AMD’s staff when she took over last October. AMD has struggled to keep up with rival Intel, basically ceding the entire server processor market to Intel but climbing in overall PC processor share thanks to an aggressive move to supply CPUs to all three leading game consoles, or roughly 17 percent.

“Unlike previous AMD senior executive departures over the last few years, I think that most of the departing folks have other opportunities lined up,” Patrick Moorhead, an AMD fellow and now principal at Moor Insights, said in an email. “Lisa Su’s style and approach is very different from [former chief executive] Rory Read’s, and this is a natural impact when you get a CEO change with significantly different styles.”

Why this matters: No matter the rationale, it’s difficult not to see this as a cut at the heart of AMD. Success in the game console market aside, AMD has struggled, and most now consider AMD’s chips to be low-cost, value-oriented chips. The company’s strength remains its graphics business. This isn’t a deathblow by any stretch; AMD will live and die by its products. But it also needs as much help as it can to market and sell those products, and its partners will surely wonder what’s going on.

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