AMD's Graphics CTO Leaves Company

AMD has confirmed that Eric Demers, AMD's graphics Chief Technology Officer and head of the graphics business unit, has left the company to "pursue other opportunities." His job will be taken over by Mark Papermaster until a replacement is found. AMD notes in a prepared statement that it "remains fully committed to our critical graphics IP development and discrete GPU products.  We have a tremendous depth of talent in our organization, a game plan that is resonating with our customers and our team, and we are continuing to bring graphics-performance-leading products to market.  We will attract the right technology leader for this role."

Demers is just the latest executive to leave AMD--in the past twelve months, the company has said farewell to a number of executives, including former CEO Dirk Meyer, Rick Bergman, Nigel Dessau, and Emilio Ghilardi. That's not counting the widespread layoffs last year which mostly hit marketing/PR, but not entirely—AMD GPU strategy architect Carrell Killebrew (possibly the best drinking name ever) and John Bruno, the lead Trinity architect, were both let go at the same time.

Demers, presenting at AMD's Fusion Summit in 2011

Is this continuing stream of departures an indictment of Rory Read's leadership? Not really. AMD's Financial Analyst Day made it very clear that the company is pursuing a different course and emphasizing a different set of product characteristics. CPUs and GPUs remain vital to AMD's big-picture success, but how it leverages those resources is going to be very different going forward. Some of these departures could also be related to AMD's strategic repositioning of itself as a fabless semiconductor company.

In the days immediately following the GlobalFoundries spinoff, it seemed that AMD and GF would remain fairly tightly linked, but Sunnyvale was able to negotiate a much more permissible x86 license with Intel as part of settling its antitrust lawsuit and has moved to distance itself from its manufacturing partner. The decision to focus more on SoCs and on utilizing IP blocks rather than on customization is another sign that AMD is adjusting its business model. In that context, Demers departure is more of an evolutionary evaluation than a person fleeing a sinking ship.

There's still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding AMD's new direction and Read's ability to execute his roadmap and build the company's reputation as something more than an x86 alternative, but Demers' departure isn't a sign of the End Times. AMD's old strategy didn't work well, even if we wish it had. We won't know if Read's ideas are more successful until we find out more about the company's upcoming Jaguar / Kabini / Kaveri products, and see some roadmaps with launch dates attached rather than vague "2013" predictions. It's still a wait-and-see scenario, even if this latest creates additional uncertainty.