January 3, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Dirk Meyer, the man to watch at AMD
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There is a big gap between Meyer's skills with customers and those of Ruiz, according to one source.
"Dirk is still close to the Excel spreadsheet. Technical skills can be acquired and trained, but it's the soft skills that are more difficult for people and some never get them," the source said. Ruiz has transformed AMD from an also-ran in the world of business technology to a consistent presence in data centers around the world. And while having a hot product such as Opteron certainly helped, Ruiz has forged regular and real relationships with AMD's top customers in order to make things stick.
An AMD representative declined to comment specifically on the source's comment, but noted that AMD's chip group--on the back of the Opteron processor--enjoyed a period of sales and marketing success while Meyer was in charge of the organization.
Meyer will also have to win over--or get rid of--employees brought into AMD by Ruiz who remain fiercely loyal to the man but might be partially responsible for AMD's troubles, according to another source. Clearly, a lot of people must have had a bad year for AMD to reach this point.
Meet the new boss?
Despite its troubles, AMD isn't going anywhere just yet: PC and server companies don't want to rely on a single source for x86 processors, and Intel executives know they can't really afford to bury AMD and open themselves up to the same kind of antitrust scrutiny at home that the company is facing in Europe and Asia.
But just as it did in 2002 before the launch of Opteron, when the company was losing truckloads of money, AMD finds itself in a precarious position. After squandering its chance to make a dent in the quad-core server market during 2007, the company will have to hold the fort in 2008 against strong products from Intel while waiting for its next generation of processors.
Fusion is AMD's project to integrate a CPU and a GPU onto a single chip, which could dramatically improve graphics performance if AMD can meet the engineering challenges. This is why AMD snapped up ATI and--just like Opteron did--it could vault AMD ahead of its larger competitor. But AMD doesn't expect to have Fusion chips ready until 2009 at the earliest.
Perhaps a more pragmatic Meyer is now starting to assert himself following the Barcelona experience. In late 2007, AMD changed its strategy for Fusion. It now plans to introduce Fusion chips for notebooks in 2009 that will be a combination of a new GPU design and an existing CPU design, rather than trying to build a completely new design based on the "Bulldozer" core outlined in 2007.
The Sandtiger processor--based on the Bulldozer cores--will now have to wait until 2010, an AMD representative confirmed. The representative declined to elaborate on who was responsible for that decision, but noted that this time around, the company's customers approve of the decision to minimize risk.
According to sources, AMD's board has shown some irritation at the lack of AMD's execution, but a number of the members don't have a technical background in the PC and server industries. As a result, they rely heavily, like a number of corporate boards, on management's assessment and recommendations. Those recommendations haven't worked out so well over the past 12 months, and further missteps could be impossible to ignore. AMD declined to make any of its directors available for comment.
If the board of directors forces Ruiz to step down before Meyer is ready to take over, AMD's struggles could continue. And perhaps more troubling is the fact that if AMD continues to struggle under Meyer's guidance in 2008, the company may have to shred its succession plan and start from scratch.
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