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Who is Intel’s new CEO, Pat Gelsinger

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VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger has always had a reputation as being a bit of a Boy Scout. So he decided to play against type a few years ago for his keynote address at the software company’s annual customer conference in Las Vegas.

“What can I do to take my commitment to the next level,” he asked the crowd. “I went down the street to Bad-Ass Tattoo.”

Rolling up his sleeve, Gelsinger revealed a huge tattoo spelling out the company’s name in bold black letters across his left forearm. He even had a photo of himself at the aforementioned local parlor getting the seemingly permanent sign of his loyalty to VMware administered by a blonde braided tattoo artist. “Sometimes what happens in Vegas, you take home,” he added.

The audience loved it, but his wife was not amused. Luckily for Gelsinger’s marriage, the tattoo was only temporary and the photo was staged.

And now, luckily for his career choices too. Intel announced on Jan. 13 that its current CEO, Bob Swan, was stepping aside next month and that Gelsinger would take over. In many ways, it’s a return of the prodigal son, as Gelsinger, 59, spent three decades at Intel before leaving in 2009 for EMC and eventually the top role at VMware.

Intel could use some help. The once-dominant chipmaker for PCs and servers is facing challenges from all directions. While manufacturing stumbles have hamstrung Intel’s own chip improvements, Advanced Micro Devices is grabbing market share with better performing processors. Nvidia is buying rival Arm to bolster its position in processor chips, and Apple has defected from Intel to chips of its own designs, perhaps enticing Microsoft to follow suit. Meanwhile, big cloud services at Amazon and Google are developing their own server chips to displace Intel as well.

A lot of Intel’s shortcomings over the next three years “are likely already set in stone, and there is not much Pat is going to be able to do to change that,” longtime chip industry analyst Stacy Rasgon at Bernstein Research noted after the announcement on Wednesday.

Gelsinger certainly seems up to task. Growing up on a farm in an Amish part of rural Pennsylvania, he woke up before dawn to care for pigs and cows. His main morning task, he told Forbes years later, was to “go straight to a day of dusty labor and try not to get kicked by an animal.”

Neither of his parents had more than an eighth-grade education, he told the Computer History Museum. “They just pounded into us, from early ages, go to school, go to school,” he said.

In high school, he showed an aptitude for math and science and graduated early after winning a scholarship at a branch of the Lincoln Technical Institute. That was the first place he encountered computers, excelled at electronics, and drew the attention of a recruiter from Intel. A job interview in Silicon Valley came courtesy of the first plane ride of his life. Only 18 years old and without a four-year college degree, Gelsinger took a job at Intel as a quality-control technician in 1979.

Taking advantage of Intel’s generous tuition reimbursement program and flexible work hours policy, he then got a BA in electrical engineering at Santa Clara University in 1983 and a master’s degree from Stanford University in 1985, all while working full-time. Legendary computer science professor John Hennessy was Gelsinger’s master’s adviser at Stanford.

He also continued gaining responsibilities. While working on Intel’s 386 processor, he drew the attention of hard-driving Intel CEO Andy Grove, a “career defining moment,” Gelsinger said later. Grove mentored Gelsinger for decades afterward.

Gelsinger was put in charge of the design of Intel’s popular 486 chip line in his twenties and became the company’s first-ever chief technology officer in 2001, at age 40.

Gelsinger has a somewhat unusual background in Silicon Valley as a devout Christian. A strong religious upbringing has helped navigate the difficulties of the corporate world, he says. A favorite biblical verse from the Book of Colossians commands, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” He cited the verse in a 2016 interview, adding: “I can get the snot kicked out of me at a board meeting or during a sales call, and I can rebound the next day, full of joy and purpose, to start anew.”

He also met his wife, Linda, at church services when he first moved to California.

Despite all his success and talents at Intel, Gelsinger was passed over for the top job in 2005, when Paul Otellini was selected. Gelsinger hopped to data storage giant EMC as chief operating officer in 2009, moving to the Boston area.

Still aiming to be a CEO, he asked to attend EMC board meetings and got plenty of advice from the company’s cofounder, Jack Egan. “We’re an East Coast company. You need to dress like you’re at an East Coast company,” Egan told him, Gelsinger later recalled. The command prompted a quick shopping trip to Nordstrom’s that night.

Egan also told Gelsinger he needed to better understand corporate finance. So Gelsinger spent a year getting tutored by a Columbia University professor in the subject.

The homework paid off when the top job at EMC’s VMware unit opened up in 2012.

At first, the fight was against cloud computing. Amazon advocated that companies give up running their own data centers and move to the cloud. Gelsinger tried to fight back with offerings to make data centers more efficient and more secure. Then VMware tried to create its own cloud service, but that flopped. Ultimately, opposing the cloud was a losing battle, and Gelsinger shifted strategy completely, partnering VMware with Amazon’s and Microsoft’s services and making software that assisted customers moving to the cloud.

“Simply put, customers are asking us to do more together,” Gelsinger told Fortune in August 2019, explaining the deal with Microsoft Azure. He further outlined his philosophy in another interview with Fortune in April 2019. “If you don’t get in front of these waves of transition, you’re driftwood,” Gelsinger said. “You’ve got to get on the right portion of the wave and have that energy pull you forward.”

The deep engineering background has helped Gelsinger identify trends like the cloud, which should help him steer the ship at Intel. A few years ago, he even coined an acronym for what he saw as the most important trends of the time, though it was an acronym only an engineer could love: SOMOCLOBAT. That stood for social, mobile, cloud, and big data.

Intel has struggled in several of those areas, particularly mobile. Gelsinger will need more than a few more acronyms to succeed.

More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:

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Bitcoin bombs lower, touching the dreaded $30,000 range

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This is the web version of the Bull Sheet, Fortune’s no-BS daily newsletter on the markets. Sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Happy Friday, Bull Sheeters. A risk-off mood has descended over markets as COVID worries intensify. From Tokyo to Frankfurt, there’s red on the screens, and U.S. futures aren’t doing much better. Meanwhile, the Bitcoin bears are out in force; the digital currency is having another rough session.

Below, in the weekly “By the Numbers” section, I get more into the wild ride of the crypto trade, and whether this is a mere blip, or the sign of more pain to come.

In Postscript, I make good on my promise from earlier in the week. You have homework this weekend, dear reader.

But first, let’s see what’s moving markets.

Markets update

Asia

  • The major Asia indexes are closing out the week with a whimper, with the Hang Seng down 1.6%.
  • The much anticipated Ant Group IPO could be worth less than 700 billion yuan ($108 billion)—or, half the size of what underwriters were expecting just a few months ago.
  • The China-Australia trade spat has cost the latter about $3 billion—not a huge sum, but it’s putting the pinch on Australian winemakers and other exporters.

Europe

  • The European bourses stumbled out of the gates with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 0.4% at the open.
  • The COVID numbers out of the U.K. are truly frightening, and now PM Boris Johnson is signaling the current lockdown measures could extend into the summer. The pound is lower this morning.
  • The deadly winter coronavirus surge knows no borders. France announced that any visitors from aboard—including EU nations—will have to present a negative COVID-19 test to get into the country. And Portugal has suspended all flights to and from the U.K.

U.S.

  • The U.S. futures point to a weak open after a mixed trading session on Thursday. Still, all three major exchanges look as if they’ll finish the week in the green.
  • The Nasdaq closed at a fresh all-time high yesterday, helped by big gains from Intel. Alas, the chipmaker is down 4.6% in pre-market trade this morning after disclosing mixed results—record sales, but a bottom-line miss.

Elsewhere

  • Gold is lower, trading around $1,860/ounce.
  • The dollar is up as equities falter.
  • Crude is down, with Brent steady around $55/barrel.
  • Bitcoin has had a brutal week. It’s down a further 8.7%, trading below $31,000. At one point, it had broken $30k.

***

By the numbers

26.2%

Bitcoin bulls, I’ll give you the good news first. The notoriously volatile digital currency, is up 6.3% so far in 2021. Before you get out the cigars, take a peek at the past two weeks. Since hitting its all-time high of $41,940 on Jan. 8, it’s down 26.2%. That’s solidly in bear market territory. The rapid plunge has triggered all kinds of warnings about how low it could go. But cryptocurrency investors aren’t sweating it—they’ve lived through wild swings in the past. Some even see the swoon as a perfectly understandable and necessary correction. With all this in mind, Fortune‘s Robert Hackett answers the question on a lot of investors’ minds these days: Should you add Bitcoin to your portfolio in 2021?

97,528,800

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Wuhan lockdown, a news headline that shocked the world at the time. Now stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions are commonplace the world over. According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, official reports show 97,528,800 people have been sickened around the world with at least 2,090,500 deaths. The numbers are worse than anybody thought in those early days. And the near future doesn’t look much better, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a further 100,000 deaths over the next few weeks. The stock market rally aside, it’s been a brutal year.

44.4%

There’s another recent milestone that means a lot to me. Jan. 21, 2020 was the launch date of the Bull Sheet. The Nasdaq closed that day at 9,370.21, which means the tech-heavy index is up 44.4% since I’ve been writing this newsletter. Had you put 10 grand on QQQ that day, you’d be looking at a pretty impressive return… I want to thank you all for your support in year one. I’m looking forward to the ride in 2021.

***

Postscript

As I mentioned earlier this week, my inbox filled up with requests for our ribollita recipe. I’m a man of my word.

Before I share the ribollita recipe, I should explain a bit about its origin. It falls squarely in the cibo povero, or peasant food, category. And it’s Tuscan through and through. You may find something similar across the border in Umbria or here in Lazio, but the Tuscans perfected it.

We pay homage to all those nonne toscane in strictly sticking to the Tuscan version. Our recipe was inspired by the version you find in and around Pienza (I can smell the pecorino cheese whenever I think of that gem of a hill town).

Here goes:

First, a warning… this is a recipe that may trip up kitchen novices. But don’t get discouraged. You’ll earn serious points with loved ones for the effort. And once you’ve perfected it, you’ll be the envy of your investing club.

Ingredients: jar of passata di pomodoro (tomato paste) 400g, white beans (dry) 350-400g, leeks 250g, carrots 80g, 2-3 potatoes, green cabbage 250g, chard 300g, Italian black cabbage 300g, pig bone, laurel leaf, sprigs of fresh rosemary+sage+marjoram, salt.

Step one: the night before you decide to cook the ribollita, soak your white beans overnight.

Step two: You’ll need two big pots. Put your soaked white beans + pig bone + laurel leaf in one of the two big pots. Let’s call this Pot 1. Fill with 2 liters of water and cook over medium heat. Skim off the muck that floats to the top every now and then.

Step two: about 45 minutes later, you can start on your second pot. Let’s call this Pot 2. You start here with your sofrito. Pour in olive oil and cubes of your leeks, carrots and potatoes, plus salt. Let them cook for a bit, then pour in the jar of passata del pomodoro. A good five minutes later, your mix will have thickened.

Step 3: Ladle the boiled broth from the Pot 1 into Pot 2. Add the rest of your cabbages, diced, into Pot 2. Add the sprigs of fresh rosemary+sage+marjoram at the end. We usually tie the sprigs together on a thin string that we can then fish out of the cooking broth at the end. I usually sprinkle a bit more salt in Pot 2 at this point.

Step 4: After you’ve ladled out all the broth from Pot 1, you’ll be left with the pig bone and the white beans. Discard the bone. Scoop out the remainder of the white beans and blend half of those white beans into a paste. Add the white bean paste and the remainder of the whole white beans into Pot 2.

Step 5: At this point, you’re down to a single pot, Pot 2. Let Pot 2 cook for another 45-60 minutes under medium heat.

Serve: Place into your bowl a big slice of toast or, even better, a piece of stale bread; then pour your soup on top. Add a bit of pecorino romano shavings, and a dollop of olive oil.

Pair with Sangiovese or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a big-bodied Italian red. You won’t find me drinking a Pino with this dish.

Please share your ribollita photos with me!

***

Have a nice weekend, everyone… But first, there’s more news below.

Bernhard Warner
@BernhardWarner
Bernhard.Warner@Fortune.com

As always, you can write to bullsheet@fortune.com or reply to this email with suggestions and feedback.

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Friday feedback: Tax and PACs

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Good morning.

It’s Friday, so some feedback. Former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti weighed in after my Wednesday post suggesting President Biden’s spending plans will have to be financed by debt or new taxes. There’s another way, he says—collecting taxes already owed:

“Our plan gets at the heart of the tax gapupper income people who don’t pay what they legally owe. At $574 billion in 2019 alone, the tax gap is equal to what the lower 90% of all individuals pay in federal income taxes annually. This is manifestly unfair.”

You can find more on Rossotti’s proposal here.

And lots of folks commented on my suggestion that companies not pull out of the political contribution game—because they can be a force for pragmatic compromise on important issues. A sampling of the comments:

“I believe buying access, or the NEED to buy access (even if the money goes to both sides of the aisle) is the root of the problem…We have to… restore some sanity to representative government and unwind myriad ways in which special interests control the narrative.”
—J.S.

“How much did the parties just spend in this campaign? Was it 11 billion? (AM: Actually, $14 billion.) How many people can we feed, clothe, shelter and provide job training with even a portion of that ridiculous sum?
—B.T.

“At its heart…the primary objective (of corporate campaign contributions) is stability…Businesses want to know what to expect. With that knowledge, they can plan their strategies and tactics for the future.”
—P.A.

A.H. wrote in to remind me that corporations don’t make contributions directly. They do so through political action committees, which their employees contribute to. And for the record, I’m not a fan of the current campaign finance system. I’m just saying big companies are among the more responsible and pragmatic players in that system, and if they alone pull out, it will get worse.

Finally, my friend Shiva Rajgopal, who teaches at Columbia Business School, sent a paper that he says shows corporate lobbying pays off 10 times better than R&D spending, in terms of its effect on the bottom line. Given that finding, “the bigger question is why do we observe so little as opposed to too much lobbying.” His paper is here.

More news below. And check out Susie Gharib’s new interview with Delta CEO Ed Bastian, who is counting on a “big surge in demand” from business travelers in the second half of this year as the vaccine gets rolled out. “People are tired of Zoom meetings.”

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

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Biden to sign executive orders to boost food benefits, workers’ rights as part of Covid relief push

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Biden has signed executive orders to offer coronavirus relief as he tries to pass a $1.9 trillion aid package in Congress.

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