VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger says he’s not interested in the Intel CEO job, and his boss Michael Dell seems glad to hear it — but there could be more going on beneath the surface

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger VMware
  • Now that former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has dramatically and suddenly resigned, the whole world is guessing Intel will hire as its new CEO.
  • We’ve named the list of possible new CEOs that insiders have are talking about, but there’s another obvious candidate getting a fair share of the attention: VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.
  • Gelsinger has already publicly denied any interest in leaving VMware, as the CEOs of public companies are wont to do.
  • And there’s one person who watched Gelsinger’s response closely: Gelsinger’s boss, Michael Dell. Dell owns VMware through its merger with EMC.

Now that former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich dramatically resigned after his board found that he had had an affair with an Intel employee against company rules, the whole world is trying to guess who Intel will hire as its new CEO.

There’s a long list of people that insiders are talking about. but there’s another obvious candidate people gaining some attention as a potential new chief executive, too: VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.

Gelsinger left Intel in 2009 for EMC after a 30-year career there. At Intel, Gelsinger rose to become Intel’s first CTO. During his time there, he was mentored by Andy Grove, a legendary former CEO at Intel.

That definitely gives Gelsinger the pedigree for the job. On the other hand, he was reportedly in this same spot before – Gelsinger was said to be in the running for the Intel CEO job in 2013, though the board ultimately chose Krzanich.

So, when CNBC anchor Jon Fortt tweeted that Intel’s board should go after Gelsinger, Gelsinger replied that he wasn’t interested, tweeting, “Thanks for the shout out, @jonfortt but I love being CEO @vmware and not going anywhere else. The future is software!!!”

For the record, you can’t take it at face value when the CEO of a public company announces that they’re not interested in a new job. If Gelsinger were to indicate he wanted the job, or even if he stayed silent and let the speculation mount, VMware’s board of directors would have likely been unhappy.

Witness what happened with Meg Whitman. She said multiple times in public that she wasn’t interested in the then-open role of CEO of Uber, and that she wasn’t “going anywhere.” But then she was outed as a candidate who did interview for that job. And shortly after, she resigned from HPE and joined a tiny media startup.

So it’s likely that when Gelsinger’s name came up as a possible candidate for CEO of Intel, it caused his boss Michael Dell at least some cause for doubt. Dell, the billionaire CEO of the epynomous tech titan, owns EMC, which in turn has a controlling stake in VMware. In other words, Dell has reason to watch Gelsinger’s reaction carefully.

Only an hour after Gelsinger tweeted his disinterest in the job – in the wee hours of the morning, no less – Dell used his own Twitter to send a public love-note to Galsinger in reply: A cartoon that said “You’re the best.”

Despite the public love-fest between these two executives, they are also locked in a boardroom battle of sorts, as Michael Dell continues to float the idea that he may swoop in and have the company do a reverse merger with VMware. In that scenario, Dell would go public by subsuming VMware, and VMware would be a Dell subsidiary.

If that were to happen, it’s easy to see Gelsinger looking around for his next CEO opportunity, rather than sticking around to run a business unit under Dell. And going to Intel would mean trading up from a public company that earned about $US8 billion in revenue in 2017 to one that earned nearly $US63 billion in the same period.

Gelsinger would also bring with him his spotless reputation to help repair any damage done by Krzanich’s personal choices.

That said, Gelsinger’s been out of Intel’s business for nearly a decade now and didn’t land the job the last time his name was publicly bandied about as a candidate. Intel’s board may want to go forward with fresh blood, rather than backward to experience.