van Houten's background is in systems. He seemed to bring to NXP the kind of big company management approach - re-organisations, re-focussings, jiggering around with management structures, cost-cuttings, M&A - that sort of thing.
What a semiconductor company needs is someone who sees the future a few years out and is prepared to put his bollox on the block to develop the products which will thrive in that version of the future.
It takes deep understanding of where the technology is going, where the markets are going, and how to persuade engineers to buy into your version of the future.
It's never easy because there are many versions of the future. To get your people to buy into your version of the future takes authority. Not the authority which derives from power and position, but the authority which comes from technological wisdom and understanding.
You can't rely on your customers to tell you which version of the future is going to be the real future. They don't know. Semiconductors determine the correct version of the future and it's up to semiconductor people to make the right bet on the right future.
When companies are, like NXP, owned by private equity companies, the chances are they'll make bad choices of CEO. They like people who are like themselves: conventional management types doing conventional management things: re-orgs, restructurings, re-focussing, cost-cutting, M&A etc etc.
But Blackstone, the private equity owners of Freescale, had the savvy to appoint a real semiconductor guy, Rich Beyer, as CEO of Freescale, and KKR, owners of NXP, have done the same with Richard Clemmer who replaces van Houten tomorrow.
Clemmer is undoubtedly a semiconductor guy having served more than two decades before the mast as a TI-er. One of Clemmer's claims to fame is that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin suggested that Clemmer join them in the founding of Google.
Not seeing any way that anyone could make any money out of search, Clemmer declined the offer.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE - Next post: January 2nd 2009