Brian Krzanich is no longer the chief executive of Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, according to a statement from the company Thursday morning announcing his resignation. The reason: Krzanich “had a past consensual relationship with an Intel employee,” which Intel says violates the company’s non-fraternization policy. Put differently, Intel is saying that in the past Krzanich had an affair with someone else who works at Intel, probably someone under him, since he’s been an executive for decades, and that’s against the rules. Krzanich is married with two children. Now the company’s chief financial officer, Robert Swan, will serve as Intel’s interim CEO.
The context of the #MeToo movement probably can’t be ignored here: By expelling Krzanich, Intel is clearly trying to signal it holds its corporate leadership to high standards of workplace behavior. We don’t know what happened: who complained, what motivated the complaint, when it happened, and what kind of power dynamics were involved. Whatever went down, clearly internal disciplinary procedures weren’t going to cut it, perhaps because there was a possibility details of the relationship could leak. After all, Intel felt it was prudent to share that it had to do with a “consensual affair.” Still, the dismissal of a CEO is a big deal—and even if Krzanich did violate rules, his exit counts as a surprise.
From almost any vantage point, Krzanich had been doing a pretty good job. He had helmed Intel since 2013 and had been trying to diversify the company’s output beyond the chips that are nestled inside home computers and smart phones. Intel is now one of the world’s leading drone-makers, makes a VR headset, and even hired LeBron James to act in a commercial for its self-driving car technology last year. In December 2017, Kraznich even appeared on the cover of Forbes Magazine, which placed Intel at No. 1 on its list of most ethical top 100 publicly traded companies.
But Kraznich’s attempt to expand Intel wasn’t without roadblocks. Shortly after the Forbes cover hit newsstands, the tech news site the Register broke a story detailing two massive security holes in Intel chips, Spectre and Meltdown, that could allow hackers to siphon memory off of computers and open the doors to new attacks. Due to the near-ubiquity of Intel chips, which can be found not only within personal devices like Macs and iPhones but also within nearly every data center and cloud service in the world, the security holes weren’t easily patched, and major tech companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon raced to secure their systems and assure the public that the gapping security holes did not seriously impact the safety of their products.
Intel faced criticism for learning of the serious vulnerabilities in June 2017 yet not sharing that information in a timely way and continuing to sell faulty devices to the public in the months that followed. Which didn’t make Krzanich look great after it was reported he sold $39 million worth of stock—the most he was allowed to sell under corporate bylaws—months after he learned about the problems his company was soon to face. Intel, for its part, said it held off disclosing the security flaws so the company could attempt to issue fixes for the vulnerabilities first, and Krzanich said on stage at CES in January that the company was expected to issue fixes for all its products by the end of that month. Intel held that Krzanich’s stock sale wasn’t inappropriate and agreed to cooperate with any government investigations, like say, from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Now Kraznich’s reign at the tech titan is over, and his successor will likely be vetted not just for proven leadership of a technology company, but with a close eye for ethical behavior—in the boardroom and, yes, in the bedroom. If Intel really wants to be place itself at the forefront of American workplaces, the company might consider putting a woman or a person from an under-represented minority in charge.