Intel Doesn't Settle for Good Enough

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Every tennis player (or baseball, basketball, or darts player, for that matter) has been guilty of this cardinal sin: Hit a perfect shot, stop to admire your own magnificence, and then lose the point as your opponent pulls off a seemingly impossible recovery.

Intel (NAS: INTC) won't be caught dead making that terrible mistake.

The semiconductor guru just reported fourth-quarter sales and earnings that were better than we had any right to expect. Sales jumped 22% year over year, or 12% in organic terms after backing out $1 billion of acquisition-powered revenues. Adjusted earnings per share of $0.61 beat Wall Street estimates by 5%. Intel shares jumped as much as 2% on the news. It was a good day for the company and its investors.

Never settle for "comfortable"
Yet Intel isn't satisfied with the status quo. The company just unveiled two high-level executive changes. Manufacturing VP Brian Krzanich is Intel's new COO, a move that places even more faith in the manufacturing division's importance to the company's overall health. Meanwhile, Intel architecture leader Dadi Perlmutter adds the title of chief product officer.

In other moves, CFO Stacy Smith and technology chief Bill Holt now report directly to CEO Paul Otellini, removing complexity from the management structure. The changes cascade up and down the ranks, ultimately going back to vice chairman and industry legend Andy Bryant moving into the chairman's seat full-time.

Credit where credit is due
Some coaches don't change a winning team, but Intel's leaders just did. Chalk up credit (or blame, but I don't see it that way) for this gutsy move to Chairwoman Jane Shaw, Harvard Business School Dean David Yoffie, and eBay CEO John Donahoe. That's Intel's nominating committee, including the board's chairperson and lead independent director.

To me, these management changes say more about Intel's business than a single quarterly report ever will. Yes, even a great report like this one.

The semiconductor industry is always changing, because the gadgets Intel and friends are feeding chips into present a moving target. If Intel wants to stay relevant five, 10, or 50 years down the road, the company must never be afraid to adapt. And that's exactly what just happened here.

What will the revamped team do next?
Smartphones and tablets may look like the only way forward from a purely American perspective. The PC is dead, right? Being the far-and-away leader in that space isn't the great shakes it used to be.

But Intel can't afford that cash-cow segment to fall into the hands of Advanced Micro Devices (NYS: AMD) , ARM Holdings (NAS: ARMH) , or MIPS Systems (NAS: MIPS) unopposed. In the earnings call, Otellini reminded us that 90% of American homes own a PC, while only 35% of Chinese homes enjoy that privilege. There's a fantastic amount of untapped opportunity in places such as China and India, where PC sales are already huge yet the market is growing by double-digit percentages.

Home-field advantage
Importantly, all three of Intel's processor architecture rivals depend on other companies to make actual chips. Intel's renewed commitment to manufacturing technologies makes the company stand out from the crowd. When world-leading chip foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYS: TSM) and other outsourcing destinations are swamped by sudden rushes in end-user demand, everyone else has to compete for factory time while Intel can simply hunker down and work harder.

It's a serious competitive advantage, and one not easily replicated. Chip factories are very expensive and often take years to build.

And you know what else? TSMC and company run nearly all their factories in places such as Taiwan and Indonesia, with the GlobalFoundries plant under construction in New York being the exception to the rule. But seven out of 12 Intel fabs rest on American soil. With the economy in shambles and unemployment sky-high, you have to respect that dedication to keeping thousands of high-quality jobs in America. The company is chasing international opportunity from a solid home base.

The Intel story is much bigger than a single quarter, and the company clearly intends to keep it that way. Learn more about the trillion-dollar market the chip giant has yet to penetrate in this special report, which free to download but for only a limited time. Keep your eye on the ball and your feet moving.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of eBay and Intel, as well as writing puts in eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+. We have adisclosure policy.

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