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SanDisk Scores Last Quarter but Loses Its Leader

By Anders Bylund - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 11:34AM

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SanDisk minus its charismatic leader equals ... nobody knows.

SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK) just reported second-quarter results. Sales were up 61% year over year to $1.18 billion, and non-GAAP earnings tripled from $0.36 to $1.08 per share. The price per gigabyte sold fell 18% from the year-ago period and 8% from last quarter, which isn't ideal given the recent stabilization in memory prices but also not a disaster. In a joint venture with Toshiba (OTC BB: TOSBF.PK), SanDisk will build a new memory-making plant over the next four years that will help both companies keep up with customer demand "in the coming years."

But nobody cares about all of that. If we did, SanDisk's stock would be rising today; the reported numbers outdid both management guidance and Wall Street expectations, and there was no massive buildup of investor hopes ahead of the report. SanDisk's share price has more than doubled in the past year, soundly trouncing other memory-makers such as Micron Technology (NYSE: MU) and Imation (NYSE: IMN), but with a marked flattening toward the end of the curve. And the stock plummeted after the report, down 5% this morning.

The culprit: SanDisk founder and longtime CEO Eli Harari picked this occasion to announce his retirement. The market reaction to this news is quite the opposite of what happened when The Wall Street Journal mused about Nokia (NYSE: NOK) maybe losing its CEO -- new leadership would be good news for Nokia but very bad for SanDisk.

Harari is a highly respected figure in the semiconductor industry, having co-founded SanDisk from an engineering background rather than business and basing the venture on disappointments with memory chip strategy he'd experienced when working for now-competitor Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and elsewhere. Kindly and unassuming, he's got both impeccable credentials and the chutzpah to tell Samsung "no, thanks" when it offered to buy his company for $5.85 billion.

"It's amazing what you can achieve if you don't mind that somebody else gets the credit," Harari told USA TODAY earlier this summer. Now his younger friend and co-founder Sanjay Mehrotra will step up from COO to CEO and start taking credit for the work Harari has been doing over the past two decades. These are some big shoes to fill, and I can't blame the market for acting nervous about the change. Imagine Berkshire Hathaway without Warren Buffett. Yeah, it's a lot like that in SanDisk land right now.

Will Mehrotra take over the reins without a hiccup, or are the glory days over for SanDisk? Discuss in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Berkshire Hathaway, Intel, and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

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