A Painful Start to the New Year

I’ve been around Intel for a long time now. The beginning of the New Year is a notoriously busy time. We are usually working hard on the upcoming corporate responsibility report and the many other projects that seem to start in January. However this first week in January, has been one of the most challenging I’ve seen. Intel and the OLPC Association have parted ways.

This isn’t a “he said she said” post. It’s not an attempt to make excuses or to blame the other side. It’s not an effort to seek forgiveness or acceptance. There are at least two sides to every story. From what I’ve been reading, this one has a lot more than that.

A few of the technology blogs like Slashdot and GIZMODO seem to include comments that look at the angle from both sides. However, the vast majority of the public will take their perception from stories like the one that ran in Saturday’s New York Times. And, why shouldn’t they? Most accounts portray Intel as not keeping its end of the agreement.

Hindsight is always 20/20. No one in their right mind would have joined forces with this outcome in mind. When I first learned Intel was considering joining the OLPC initiative and its board, I thought it was a great idea. We had, and have, the same basic goal-to improve education of the world’s underserved children by providing them access to technology. I thought the relationship was a win-win.

I don’t know all the people involved that worked hard to try to make this work however, I know the people at Intel that were involved on this project. They entered this project with passion, and more than just good intentions – they wanted to make a difference. We invested people’s time, resources, and millions of dollars. Some may see this simply as a PR stunt gone badly, but I can tell you, we are not a company that would approach PR in this manner.

I’m not sure what this will look like when the dust settles. I know OLPC will continue on its path, and I wish them success. I also know Intel will continue in its investment in improving education around the world. I’ve built my career at Intel by working towards mutual gains, win-wins, accountability and building trust. I think that last characteristic may be the most important. It may also be the one thing that was missing in this relationship. I’m saddened and disappointed that this collaboration came to its current state. This result is lose-lose.

I know we have a lot of great initiatives and strategies that will be announced as 2008 continues to march on. This first week of 2008 will weigh on us for some time. But, we will continue to grow and build the CSR/sustainability strategies inside Intel. We can never work too hard on that “Trust” characteristic. I know it takes years to build it, but it can be lost in an instant. And based on some of the e-mails I’ve received in the last two days, I’d say it’s time to get back to work on it.

3 Responses to A Painful Start to the New Year

  1. Jim Hoffman says:

    Intel has for along time lived by the theory of enlightened self interest (the effort makes money for Intel), not out of altruism. Basically, Intel is all for improving education around the world *as long as it increases Intel profitability, directly or indirectly*. From outside it looks to many folks like someone misinterpreted the profit effect and Intel subsequently pulled the plug. Even if this in not the true reason for pulling out of OLPC, Intel will have a hard time convincing the public that its actions stem from anything but the pursuit of money.

  2. Matthew Norris says:

    I fear this new “market” is simply being seen by Intel as an extension of the battlefield against rivals AMD. This is entirely inappropriate – Intel’s behavior in this area is a severe blow to their image. I would suggest that Intel simply pull out of the OLPC “market” and focus their attention on what they do best – making excellent quality CPUs. They should issue an apology to OLPC and perhaps market the machine elsewhere in the developed world, as I feel there would still be an easy market for it there.
    As a consumer I have second thoughts about buying things from a company that has been seen to be bullying and undermining an innovative charity in the name of profit. Although Intel still have a chance to mend their ways, if they do not, they may find themselves in the same position as Nestle were in the late 70s when their business practices with regards to baby milk came to light.