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Pat Gelsinger: Intel's Technology Shepherd

Pat Gelsinger of Intel

Pat Gelsinger is one of the most important tech executives at the world's biggest chip company and may even head it some day. How he came to be in this position is a story of determination, faith and one very smart mind.

In 1979, Intel recruiter Ron Smith was on his 12th interview of the day when a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania Dutch farm country named Patrick Gelsinger took a seat for his turn at getting a job with this still-unknown California firm.

Smith's note on the teenager was pretty straightforward: "Smart, arrogant, aggressive -- he'll fit right in."

Gelsinger had flown across the country for the interview, even though he had promised his mother he wouldn't take a job on the west coast. He ended up taking the job for two reasons: First, Intel was willing to pay for his education. If he worked a minimum of 30 hours per week and maintained a B average, his tuition was covered. This enabled him to get his Bachelor's degree from Santa Clara University and Master's degree from nearby Stanford University, both in electrical engineering.

But perhaps more than that perk, Intel really pursued him. "Our hiring manager was super aggressive in recruiting me, calling my mom, telling her he'd look after me, make sure I don't fall in the ocean or get lost in a cult, all the things that east coasters imagine of the west coast," Gelsinger joked.

Twenty-nine years later, not only has he fit in, Gelsinger has been as significant a presence within the company as Andy Grove and Gordon Moore. As an engineer, project leader, business unit leader, chief technology officer and now senior vice president and general manager of the chip giant's largest division, the digital enterprise group, he has led some of the most successful product developments in the company's history. He also oversaw some flops, and actually, didn't fit in all that well at first -- a reminder that it's how executives overcome adversity that often foretell their future successes.

"There's a handful of guys at Intel who have been associated with most of the key product programs, and Gelsinger is definitely in that crowd," said Nathan Brookwood, a long-time analyst in the semiconductor market and research fellow with Insight64.

"What you see with Pat is a deep understanding of the technical side, a deep understanding of the business side, and in general he's been in the middle of a lot of good decisions Intel has made," adds Martin Reynolds, a vice president with Gartner. "When you've got that kind of combination of business and technical expertise, you have the ability to steer the company down the right course."

Gelsinger describes Intel as "a very successful culture, if I could call it that, a combination of paranoia from Grove's environment and pride in our accomplishment, literally, that the things we do change the world. Paranoia in that if we don't do it faster than the guy next to us, our lunch is going to get eaten."

Next page: Involved in many projects