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Revolving Door

In contrast to Apple’s stunning success, the first calendar quarter of 2011 was a revolving door for other Silicon Valley companies and executives. There were management shifts, shakeups and ousters at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Google, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Microsoft. They were variously aimed at jumpstarting product momentum (AMD, Microsoft), polishing a tarnished image and placating stockholders (HP) and providing an orderly transition of power (Google).

You need a scorecard to keep up with all the comings and goings.

AMD’s board ousted chief executive Dirk Meyer in mid-January after only 18 months on the job. It then appointed Senior Vice President and CFO Thomas Seifert, as interim CEO while the search goes on for a permanent chief executive. Siefert continues as chief financial officer and says he does not want to be considered for the permanent CEO position. This is probably a smart move. AMD’s flamboyant co-founder Jerry Sanders spent 33 years as CEO (1969 to 2002), but everyone who’s followed has had a short tenure.

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It’s hard to believe but the first quarter of 2011 is now a memory and we’re well into spring. The tone for the year in high technology was set in early January: fast, bold, aggressive action and sweeping management changes.

In the first four months of the year high tech vendors moved quickly and decisively to seize opportunities in established sectors (smart phones, virtualization, back-up and disaster recovery) and emerging markets (cloud computing, tablet devices and unified storage management). As 2011 unfolds, it’s apparent that high technology vendors are willing to shift strategies and shed executives in order to stay one step ahead of or keep pace with competitors. The competition is cutthroat and unrelenting. No vendor, no matter how dominant its market share, how pristine its balance sheet or how deep its order backlog and book to bill ratio dares relax or rest on its laurels for even a nanosecond.

Recaps of some of the year’s highlights thus far are very revealing.

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Memo to Larry Ellison: The Roman Coliseum halted gladiator combats around 435 A.D. SAP has thrown in the towel and has no interest in continuing a court battle. Hewlett-Packard executives are refusing to accept service on your lawsuits and HP’s newly named chief executive Leo Apotheker is laying low, presumably dodging your increasingly vituperative verbal assaults. You’ve got no takers for the bloody, bare knuckles brawl you crave. What does that tell you?

It should signal an end to the Circus Maximus sideshow but it won’t.

No one desires this much attention or sticks their chin out spoiling for a fight like Ellison. And in an industry like high tech that’s overflowing with giant egos, that’s saying something. It’s true that Ellison’s antics always make for reams and reams of good copy. Reporters calling for comments on the latest developments don’t even bother to suppress their mirth. Enough is enough, though. The Larry Ellison Show would be more amusing if corporate customers weren’t getting caught in the crossfire.

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