Intel CEO: What I learned as CEO of a startup that tanked

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Intel (INTC) CEO Bob Swan now runs one of the world’s biggest semiconductor companies, but he once led a startup that tanked four months after he became CEO.

In a new interview, Swan told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer, what he learned from his time at grocery delivery startup Webvan. Like the pet supply company, Webvan has become an emblem of the dot-com bubble that burst in 2001.

“I was in both the boom days and the bust days. They just happened to be very close together. So for me, I learned a lot about myself,” Swan said. “I learned a lot about making bets while maintaining your focus in a highly, ever-changing environment. So it was a disappointing outcome, but personally and professionally, I learned a lot about how to be a more effective leader.”

Swan made the remarks on an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment. On Thursday, Intel reported earnings that beat on the top and bottom line. It also confirmed that it’s selling its mobile modem division to Apple (AAPL).

‘I learned a lot about myself’

Bob Swan, chief executive officer of the Intel Corporation, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 11, 2019 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Prior to joining Webvan, Swan worked for General Electrics (GE), rising through the ranks and becoming vice president of finance CFO of GE Lighting until his departure in 1999.

“I never wanted to go anywhere where I would maybe compare each day to GE, because I knew I’d be miserable,” Swan said. “So in 1999, if you want to go somewhere [where] there are no circumstances upon which you will compare to your prior employer, it was coming out to Silicon Valley at the time — and for me, Webvan in particular.”

The tech company raised $375 million in its 1999 IPO, and according to Forbes, reached a peak stock market value of $1.2 billion. However, it was never able to sustain a profit and eventually filed for bankruptcy less than two years later.

“The company at the time, and just the internet more broadly, … disrupted existing industries,” Swan said. “I would say at Webvan, we used to think that we were trying to maybe disrupt the hardest industry at the time. And that is to allow online shopping for things as diverse as fruit, hard goods, meat, eggs, and delivered to your home in a 30-minute window of your choice.”

He continued: “It was a very complicated situation, and that’s what I loved about it is how do I leverage my experiences and deploy them into a situation where survival or failure may solely be dependent on the role I play and how effectively I play it.”

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.


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