So Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) fumbles an important product launch, giving smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) a couple of months to exploit that atypical weakness. AMD had its own long-awaited launch raring to make a difference, finally justifying the oft-derided purchase of graphics specialist ATI. This would be a good time to steal some market share, particularly in the upper end of the desktop and notebook markets, where margins and nice and juicy.

And what happens? Well, Intel blows the doors off its quarter and AMD certainly shows some spunk, but hardly on par with Chipzilla's performance. AMD saw non-GAAP earnings of $0.08 per share on $1.6 billion of revenue, both slightly ahead of analyst estimates and fairly flat when compared with year-ago numbers.

Opportunity, lost
AMD should have been pushing Fusion chips all over the place, and the results should have been much stronger. It's nice to see a steady string of positive earnings, but "nice" isn't good enough. I blame it all on AMD's board of directors picking a terrible time to run a leaderless, zombiefied business model.

On the upside, CFO and interim CEO Tom Seifert told analysts that the CEO search is going places: "The board is very happy with the interest we have received and is actively interviewing candidates, and we are pleased with our progress to date," he said. Chairman Bruce Claflin is more interested in finding the right candidate than in meeting a specific timetable, so the timing of this process is uncertain.

Prime, grade-A beef
OK, cool. So if interest in AMD's CEO chair is so high, let's make a wishlist for the job:

  • Claflin should be able to pull some strings himself. As former CEO of networking specialist 3Com, he should have some embedded links to 3Com buyer Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ), where hardware is going out of style under software-centric CEO Leo Apotheker. AMD has tapped the HP talent pool before, and if mobile strategy really matters to the board, then perhaps iPod architect and former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein could be convinced to lead the charge. That would be an epic win.
  • Former PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway, who sits in AMD's nominating committee, has similar ties to PeopleSoft parent Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL). A latticework of acquisitions has created a deep talent bench at Oracle, some of whom might prefer to steer their own ship again. Well-respected Co-President Safra Katz has a history of working with Conway and should feel slighted by the decision to install HP castoff Mark Hurd as her equal. Although less of a slam-dunk than Rubinstein, Katz would be another serious upgrade for AMD.
  • Why not throw a feeler across the hall? Intel traditionally picks its CEOs from within the company but has reportedly been looking at outsiders to eventually replace Paul Otellini. Someone like Dave Ditzel, Intel's VP of digital-enterprise operations, could choose to make the jump to AMD if Intel's CEO position starts to look unattainable. Ditzel was CEO of chip-design upstart Transmeta once upon a time and should love the chance to carve a bigger profile into the annals of semiconductor history.

That's my short list of desirable CEO candidates for AMD, pie-in-the-sky style. Whoever takes the position must be comfortable fighting from an underdog position, should have deep technical roots, and will be asked by the board to focus on the mobile market above all else.

Just beyond the short list
Graphics rival NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA) has a few strong names on the bench and a frustratingly rigid succession structure below co-founder and longtime CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. IBM (NYSE: IBM) is a well-known farm of executive talent and dabbles in everything from software to chip design. And wouldn't it be delicious to steal an executive from ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH), like COO Graham Budd or marketing veteran and current processor-division head honcho Mike Inglis, just when there’s pressure on Intel to consider once again making ARM-based mobile chips? All of these alternatives meet most of my selection criteria.

Given this wealth of potential top-notch candidates, I'd be a disappointed AMD investor if the final choice comes with a pedigree below this level. Take your time, I guess, now that the exploitable window of Intel-bashing opportunity has passed without much of a payoff. But then you'd better do it right.

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