Is This the Worst CEO of 2011?


When you look at a stock chart for TriQuint Semiconductor (NAS: TQNT) for 2011, you'd be forgiven for confusing it with Netflix (NAS: NFLX) . Both the movie maven and the communications chip designer roared into the year on a full head of steam as the digital streaming and mobile computing markets just opened up before them.

But then things went haywire, and both stocks have dropped about 60% this year. This 18-month chart shows what I'm talking about:


TriQuint Semiconductor Stock Chart by YCharts

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' name gets dragged through the dirt on a regular basis thanks to this dismal performance. Why doesn't TriQuint CEO Ralph Quinsey get the same treatment? I think he should, and you'll see me make a CAPScall on that basis in just a minute.

But this is different!
You might cry that Hastings brought on his own demise while Quinsey was the victim of external market forces. Hence, it's a totally fair distinction. But I'm not sure that argument holds water.

It seems to me as though Quinsey overestimated his company's worth to the Apple (NAS: AAPL) ecosystem. By way of Foxconn subsidiaries, Apple is TriQuint's largest customer. And while TriQuint is a confirmed participant in the hotcakes-like iPhone 4S, newcomer Avago (NAS: AVGO) replaced three chips from TriQuint and Skyworks Solutions (NAS: SWKS) with just one integrated little part. TriQuint has trumpeted an integrated approach to many of its new designs, but results have been lacking.

So you can -- and should -- give credit to Avago for squeezing into this new market, or you can blame TriQuint and Skyworks for not stepping up to the plate. We've seen Cirrus Logic (NAS: CRUS) and others bending over backwards to satisfy Apple's demands on demand -- why couldn't TriQuint do the same?

Instead, TriQuint and Quinsey spent the last six months building out manufacturing capacity to meet high demand that never came. Now, the company ponders slashing prices in order to compete on price rather than features or quality.

That's not how you win back Apple's love, for starters. Instead, TriQuint could start a deeper price war that sucks in Skyworks, Avago, and RF Micro Devices (NAS: RFMD) too, sinking profits across the mobile signal chips industry. Micron shareholders know what that feels like after the multiyear price wars that plagued the memory industry in the mid-2000s.

I find it borderline irresponsible of Quinsey to go down that road. TriQuint has clearly misjudged its market opportunity badly, as shown by two straight helpings of disappointing guidance with another forecast cut squeezed in along the way.

Shields up, blinders on!
Being blindsided that often is not a healthy habit. At least Reed Hastings made his mistakes, then owned up to them and swiftly killed the worst one. Ralph Quinsey, on the other hand, points fingers at macroeconomics and fast-moving markets. "If I go back and look at it, and I have, I think we made the right decisions," he says. In other words, TriQuint is in the dumper but it's not my fault.

So I think we could make a strong case for Ralph Quinsey as one of the worst CEOs of 2011. Much of the stock's awful performance can be traced back to his decisions, yet he shows no remorse and nobody is talking about it. That just ain't right.

I'm backing up this scathing review by putting my CAPS rating where my mouth is. I just put a thumbs-down CAPScall on TriQuint, fully expecting that this bumbling CEO will drive shares down even further.

I don't mean to scare you off the radio chip sector entirely. In this free report on five stocks the Fool owns and you should too, our top analysts highlight a big-time TriQuint partner that wouldn't be caught dead making these silly mistakes. Just click here to grab a copy and learn more -- it's totally free.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix and Micron but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Cirrus, and TriQuint. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Netflix. We have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.

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