But at 68, Topfer, a managing director of Castletop Capital, an Austin, Texas, investment firm, is in no mood to rest on his laurels. In fact, his next big challenge could be his crowning legacy--if he's able to pull it off.
After being hired by Dell on the strength of his reputation as an operations ace, Topfer helped create a strategy for growth. Along the way, he also helped school Dell founder Michael Dell in the nuances of big business. Topfer, who recently joined Advanced Micro Devices' board, walks into a situation there that is more complicated than he might have faced at Dell, if not more challenging. In the last year, AMD has achieved technological
Topfer recently spoke with CNET News.com about AMD's prospects and his role in the months ahead.
Q: You're close with Michael Dell and Dell CEO Kevin Rollins. People believe you can help AMD win Dell as a customer. Can you?
Topfer: I am a very close friend of Michael and Kevin. I recruited Kevin so I could retire (from Dell). I let Michael and Kevin know that I was considering (going to AMD) before I joined the board, and they wished me good luck. We'll see where it goes.
AMD has made a lot of progress. The issue is that Dell is still Intel's only 100 percent-Intel customer. Intel has a lot of market power to keep it attractive to them to stay that way. I think that ultimately, Dell tends to go with leadership technology and very cost-effective solutions, and AMD has got to be able to do that for them to consider it.
Is it only a matter of time before Dell includes AMD in its offerings?
Topfer: They know AMD very, very well. AMD has got a big fab (its Fab 36 chip factory in Dresden, Germany) to bring up to speed. Dell's buying requirement for microprocessors is in the 25 million to 30 million level--or whatever that number is. That takes a lot of capacity. Dell is a very low inventory-oriented company. AMD, if they are ever going to be a supplier, has got to meet all of its needs without compromising Dell's ability to serve the market.
If it were to go into the notebook or desktop space, it would take a lot of (AMD) capacity.
It may happen some day?
Topfer: I hope so.
How did you get involved with AMD?
Topfer: (AMD CEO Hector Ruiz) is an old associate of mine. I've known him for 25 years. We worked together (at Motorola) for 15
He called me at the beginning of the year. He wanted to wait a reasonable amount of time after me leaving the Dell board, which I didn't stand for re-election on last year. I said, "Yeah, I'd be interested."
It's a challenge to face such a dominant competitor like Intel. But anything I can do to help, I'd be glad to do.
What are your thoughts about AMD and its position right now?
Topfer: It's changed direction, I think, under Hector's leadership. When Jerry Sanders ran the company, he tended to drive the strategy toward fighting Intel in the consumer space and the desktop space. Hector has--through the (AMD64) 64-bit technology--driven the company more toward the technology leadership position, which I think they've achieved. It doesn't mean they're not competitive in all those other spaces, but it's not the sole driving force of the company.
I think that today, they do have a much stronger position on which to grow the company and continue to penetrate the market.Do you think that Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard releasing new servers based on AMD chips is another step forward?
Topfer: I think it is. AMD's reputation is really moving forward under Hector's leadership, and a lot of corporate customers are interested in 64-bit technology and using the AMD technology. That is an industry where the customers have a great deal of influence
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