Israel-born Amir Faintuch has been tasked by Intel Corp. to hunt for the US semiconductor giant’s next big investment.
The US corporation is transitioning from being a maker of semiconductor chips for PCs to a firm that powers the cloud and billions of smart, connected computing devices. This push is being spearheaded by Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich, who recruited Faintuch from Qualcomm four years ago and tasked him with leading the corporation’s research and development platform engineering group, in charge of developing chips and other products globally and managing a team of tens of thousands of people.
Now, Faintuch, a senior VP at Intel Corp. and part of its executive management team, has joined Intel Capital, the company’s venture capital arm, as a senior VP and the director of strategic investments and transactions globally. His new position was announced earlier this month at the Intel Capital Global Annual Summit.
He will be charged with “finding the next big deal for the company,” Faintuch said. It may be the next Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based maker of automotive technologies that Intel acquired last year for a whopping $15.3 billion, or the next Altera, a chipmaker that the US giant bought in 2015 in a deal valued at $16.7 billion. The two deals are the largest ever made by Intel Corp., in its bid to transition into a key player in industries as varied as drones, the cloud, smart cars and connected devices.
“It is less about the size of the deal, but more about where the future lies ahead,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of Intel Capital’s summit in Palm Desert, California, held earlier this month. This could be in robotics, artificial intelligence or machine learning, he said. His job is to look globally for opportunities, but a lot of his focus will be in Israel, scouting for opportunities in Startup Nation.
“Part of my task is to focus even more in Israel,” he said. The position “will legitimize my passion around Israeli startups and I love what we can do in Israel — it just amazes me each time.”
Intel and Israel: a love story
Intel Corp., the world’s second largest chipmaker, was one of the first global multinationals that recognized the potential of setting up R&D activities in Israel.
Israel’s Dov Frohman, an electrical engineer who studied for his masters and doctoral degrees the University of California, Berkeley, became one of Intel’s first employees when it was set up as a startup 50 years ago. In 1973, when the US firm was facing a shortage of engineers, Frohman — who had left Intel to pursue other ventures — returned to the firm and pitched the idea of setting up an Israeli design center. The Intel team arrived in Israel in 1974 and hired five engineers for its new center in Haifa. Until then, the company had never before set up a major R&D outside the US.
Since starting its activities locally, Intel has spent some $35 billion in cumulative investments and acquisitions in Israel and employs some 11,000 workers in its manufacturing plant in Kiryat Gat, and in its R&D centers in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Haifa. Some 1,000 additional workers are employed at Mobileye. The US semiconductor giant had exports of some $3.6 billion from Israel in 2017, representing 8 percent of Israel’s high tech exports, according to company data, and its activities account for 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
New Israeli investments are also in the pipeline: the company plans to invest a massive $5 billion to expand its Kiryat Gat chip manufacturing plant by 2020, and is looking to Israel to provide it with the technologies that will help transform it into “a driving force of the data revolution across every technology and every industry,” according to CEO Krzanich’s vision for the firm. Krzanich attended Israel’s 70th anniversary independence celebrations earlier this year, bringing with him a light and music show put on by a fleet of 300 Intel drones for the state’s official ceremony in Jerusalem.
“Intel Israel is playing a critical role in the past, current and future trajectory” of the global firm, said Faintuch. The Israeli team has made sure it has delivered “multi tens of billions of dollars of revenues” to its parent company, stemming from products it has developed in Israel, including some of its fastest chips and processors.
Intel’s Kiryat Gat plant in Israel “is leading in terms of quality, time to market, capabilities,” Faintuch said, adding that there is “kind of a magic in the air” regarding Intel’s relationship with Israel. And this “magic” stems from the fact that the Israeli team is “delivering substantial results, from design to manufacturing, and the company and its execs know that they can count on the Israeli team.”
In addition, the “burst of innovation that comes out of Israel,” and the recent acquisitions Intel has made in Israel, including Mobileye and sports startup Replay Technologies, “strengthen the connection and the appreciation for the technologies that are being delivered from Israel.”
Out of some 20 members of the Intel executive team, two are Israeli, he said, which is “huge.”
The Israeli team doesn’t need patronage, he said.” I keep telling the Israeli team you stand by yourself by your results — you don’t need patronage or sponsorship if you deliver what is expected and way beyond, and they are taking it to heart.”
An Israeli in Silicon Valley
Being an Israeli working for a huge US corporation is both interesting and challenging, he said. Corporations in Silicon Valley today are not just American companies, they are a “huge, big melting pot,” he said.
“Who is an American? I am an American, I have a US passport, my wife and kids are American — we were born in Israel. My colleagues are from Ireland, India, China and 20 other nationalities.”
As an Israeli in a large corporation, Faintuch sees himself as an “ambassador” smoothing over the bluntness of Israelis that can be interpreted as “pushy, unsubordinated, and rude.”
“While we admire our capabilities to make things happen, we have to cover it and finesse it a little bit,” he said, referring to Israelis. “So, I am something like — not an amplifier — I am an attenuator — I attenuate the signals and try to bridge (them), but I do the same with other cultures as well.”
From tick-tock to multi-wave
When Faintuch joined Intel Corp. almost four years ago, the company was suffering from falling demand for chips for PCs and was looking to reinvent itself, under the leadership of new CEO Krzanich. His move from Qualcomm to Intel was risky, Faintuch said. Intel was in transition. Many of his friends and colleagues said he’d be “nuts” to move. But the offer would allow him to take part in Krzanich’s vision of reinventing the company, leading it from being a PC company with some data to a data-centric firm.
“That is what attracted me,” he said. “Brian (Krzanich) had the vision and we are fulfilling that vision. We still have work to do, but the results are spectacular.”
Indeed, Intel reported record first-quarter revenue of $16.1 billion, up 13% compared to a year earlier, driven by the biggest ever quarterly jump in its data center business, which saw strong demand for the chips that power cloud computing, and steady growth in its personal computer business. The figures come on the heels of record revenues the firm posted in 2017, which rose 9% year-over-year to $62.8 billion. Net profit for the quarter was $4.5 billion, up 50% from the same quarter a year earlier, the company said.
When Faintuch joined Intel, he was put in charge of the company’s R&D for the chips. To help the company transform itself into a data-centric firm, his mission was to develop a greater number and variety of chips for a wider number of applications and for more segments, he explained. But at the same time, costs had to be kept under control.
Under Faintuch’s management, Intel’s R&D teams have been delivering 10 times the number of unique chip solutions manufactured four years ago, he said. In addition, Faintuch was instrumental in changing the design development model of the chips. Until he joined, Intel was successfully implementing the so-called tick tock model — which envisaged the firm delivering two completely new families of chips every two years.
“I brought a new concept to the company — the concept was that if the architecture is competitive” and the other attributes of the silicon process were good, “it’s ok to do more products on a trailing process mode,” he said.
Basically, what Faintuch said, was that instead of coming up with completely new chips every two years, it was possible, if the chips were competitive, to use existing chips and revamp their architecture.
Revamp them “multiple times,” he clarified. “We called it the multi-wave model.”
Learning to forget he is an Israeli
Learning to listen was one of the most valuable lessons he learned at Intel, Faintuch said.
“Listening is not just hearing,” he said. He had to listen closely to employees to develop the “problem statements,” to identify the main issues and ask the right questions before addressing a challenge.
What he had to forget, as an Israeli, was what could have been his innate bias toward Israel. “I had to forget that I am an Israeli because I could not allow myself to be biased,” he said.
His job, he said, was to value both diversity and inclusion while working with his global teams. “In my mind, diversity is getting into the right mix. Inclusion is getting the mix to work.”
Tips for startups and entrepreneurs
Faintuch has two tips for entrepreneurs. One: Being an expert in more than one subject is essential today, he said. “Today we cannot be a single function domain expert.” Two: “Embrace the change.” The world is changing “fanatically,” he said.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment and to change. There is more than one way to get to where you want to — don’t compromise on your vision and values — have strong values, definitely, but allow yourself to embrace change and be adaptable.”
Faintuch, who will be 50 in September, lives in Los Altos, in northern Silicon Valley, with his wife Vered and his three daughters.
He works from 6 a.m. to midnight most days, he said. He reads the tech news before heading out to work meetings and operational reviews. He makes it a point to “learn something new every day,” he said. He gets home around nine at night, after squeezing in working dinners and a visit to the gym; his daughters are older so he can afford to work late, he said. Even so, he makes sure he is there for the most important family vacations and events. He cancelled all his meetings to go visit Cornell University, in Ithaca with her, he said.
Faintuch also volunteers at the local Jewish Community Center and is active at ICON – The Israel Collaboration Network, which aims to bridge Israeli startups with the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
He loves sports – hiking, diving, and skiing.
He gets joy from “working with brilliant people” and he gets mad when people don’t communicate their problems and aren’t honest about them. “When communication is broken, we miss opportunities,” he said. “We miss an opportunity to come forward and deal with the problem early on.”
The writer was a guest of Intel Corp. at the summit.