In front of the restaurant’s dozen or more cash registers, customers were standing six or seven deep when Brice Hill raised his voice and began instructing the hungry mall shoppers to immediately exit the store.
“No one listened to a single word I said,” says Hill, who opens our discussion by transporting us back to the mid-1980s, when as a teenage recent graduate of McDonald’s management training program he was given a surprise leadership test.Read More
Having made a trip to the mall for some holiday shopping, Hill had poked his head into the mall’s marquee McDonald’s only to find a few of his fellow managers nervously waiting for a return call from McDonald’s headquarters.
The restaurant—at the time one of the busiest McDonald’s locations on the West Coast—had only minutes earlier received a bomb threat, and as Hill digested the blank stares triggered by his shouts to clear the store, he realized that more extreme measures were required.
Leaving the customers in their queues, the young manager dodged the doubtful stares of employees as he maneuvered his way to the back of the store, where he found the location’s electricity source and without hesitation cut it off.
“They had told me that 20 minutes was the countdown on the thing—we cleared the whole place with only 4 minutes to spare,” recalls Hill, who estimates that the location may have held as many as 500 customers and workers that day.
Later, police would determine that there had been no bomb, but this has never led Hill to second-guess his actions.
“When you’re in that type of situation, you have to be able to act and act like an owner. Even if you don’t know whether you have the right answer, you have to act. There cannot be a void of leadership,” says Hill, underscoring what might be a recurring theme for his career.
Fast-forward a number of decades, and Hill is a senior strategic planning executive at Intel Corp. The venue is an Arizona conference room where a group of Intel executives—including the company’s CFO—has gathered to hear Hill offer an analysis that could potentially lead Intel to begin building idle factories.
This time, the doubtful stares quickly turned to dissenting voices as Hill’s strategic analysis failed to win over many of his Intel colleagues.
“When I made the recommendation that we should build an idle factory, there was like a melee in the room. All of the CFO staff was arguing, waving their hands, debating different opinions,” explains Hill, who says that in the minds of traditional finance executives, an idle building equals excess cost. To highlight his point Hill repeats the refrain of “You have to heat it, cool it, and guard it!”
Still, what Hill’s analysis had begun to spotlight was the cost of missing out on growth opportunities in a business wielding 60% to 70% gross margins. Suddenly, having idle factories in place to more speedily add additional capacity when growth demanded seemed to have merit.
“At the end, the CFO said, ‘Bryce, I want you to go meet with the treasury staff. They’re experts in derivatives and option modeling. I want you to go see if your math holds up,’” remembers Hill, whose analysis received “a clean bill of health” from treasury before getting a thumbs-up from Intel’s CEO, a final affirmation that led Intel to modify its growth strategy as well as its accounting. Going forward expenses associated with serving the idle factories would be listed as strategic investments rather than costs – a change that has perhaps made management think twice before turning off the lights . –Jack Sweeney
CFOTL: The semiconductor sector is known for its frequent waves of consolidation—please give us a sense of the landscape today …
Hill: Well, there have been years and years of consolidation in the semis. First of all, on the manufacturing side, there are now really only three leading-edge manufacturers of semiconductors. On the fabless semiconductor side, too, the smaller companies have been absorbed by the larger firms. Nvidia announced their desire to buy ARM this year, and AMD will be buying us, so this trend is strong. But in particular, in this field, the world has gone through several different eras of compute. You had the personal compute, and then a mobile sequence, and then really, right now, we’re in the cloud compute era, where you see a lot of the compute moving into the cloud. We’re probably in the early innings, and this is going to continue to be optimized as we go forward.Read More
With 5G and artificial intelligence, the world is going to change again, and there’s going to be a lot more compute in cars, in phones, in factories—basically, new compute will be on the edge of everything. There’s going to be a whole new inventive phase by leading-edge companies of what comes after the cloud. In particular, a company that can master different types of compute—cloud computing, communications computing, memory and storage, video, graphics, unstructured data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, all these types of things—a company that can master this basket and put it together to be a leader in distributed compute is going to have a huge strategic advantage.
When I came to Xilinx, it was building chips that master many of these types of workloads. The combination of Xilinx and AMD certainly brings in a lot of world-class capabilities to be a leader in this next era of compute—maturing the cloud and getting beyond it. I think that what’s fascinating about this is the combination of the assets that AMD has, the assets that Xilinx has, and the ability to be a leader—and what this next year is going to look like. jb
Value Quote: “A business exists to solve problems for customers. If you do it profitably, that means it’s sustainable. The things that we look at are gross margin as a first indicator and the second indicator is return on invested capital (ROIC). … Our role is to understand the cash on cash return of our end markets and provide that performance measurement feedback to the business. That’s our priority.”
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