New CEO ‘uniquely qualified’ to lead Micron, co-founded and led successful competitor

SanDisk CEO Sanjay Mehrotra speaks at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit in 2014, in San Francisco. He grew up mostly in Delhi, India. Under his presidency, SanDisk focused on making more robust and reliable memory chips.
SanDisk CEO Sanjay Mehrotra speaks at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit in 2014, in San Francisco. He grew up mostly in Delhi, India. Under his presidency, SanDisk focused on making more robust and reliable memory chips. AP

The cofounder and former leader of a competitor will join Micron Technology as its next president and CEO, the Boise company said Thursday.

Micron’s board chose Sanjay Mehrotra, most recently the president and CEO of SanDisk, to succeed Mark Durcan, who announced plans to retire in February once a successor was in place. Mehrotra will take over May 8.

“Sanjay has an outstanding track record of business success and exceptional knowledge of the memory and storage industry,” said Robert E. Switz, the chairman of Micron’s board.

Shareholders greeted the news favorably, sending Micron’s stock up more than 3 percent to close at $26.63 in Thursday trading.

Micron is Idaho’s largest publicly traded company. It employs about 6,000 people in Boise, more than any other for-profit enterprise.

Mehrotra, 58, was one of three immigrants who co-founded SanDisk in the Silicon Valley in 1988, a decade after Micron’s founding in Boise.

SanDisk makes flash memory chips, which Micron also makes. Flash memory is used in solid-state drives that have replaced many hard drives, and in smartphones and tablets. It is slower but cheaper than dynamic random-access memory, which Micron manufactures but SanDisk does not. Flash retains data when the device’s power is shut off, while DRAM does not.

SanDisk and the larger Micron rivaled one another for years in the global flash-memory market.

In the early 2000s, SanDisk sued Micron alleging patent infringement. The companies settled.

In 2005, on the day Micron and Intel announced a $5.2 billion in a joint venture to make memory products in Micron plants in Utah and Virginia, SanDisk’s stock price plunged 17 percent.

After Micron announced in 2015 that it and Intel Corp. had developed a new, more powerful data-storage technology that the companies named 3D XPoint, SanDisk announced that it had teamed up with Hewlett-Packard Co. to develop new technology as well.

But when SanDisk put itself up for sale, Micron took interest. Around the time of the SanDisk-HP announcement, Bloomberg News reported that Micron and Western Digital Corp., which makes hard drives, were in talks with SanDisk about possibly acquiring it. Western Digital eventually bought SanDisk for $19 billion, and Mehrotra stepped down.

His arrival at Micron comes as the company enjoys strong revenues and profits. Micron’s most recent quarter was one of its best ever, with revenues up 58 percent from a year earlier.

“Micron is proud to initiate this change in leadership from a position of strength,” the board’s announcement said.

Born in India, Mehrotra earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer sciences from the University of California, Berkeley.

He helped pioneer flash storage solutions, and he guided a 17-year joint venture with Toshiba in NAND flash memory technology. He holds more than 70 patents.

Under Mehrotra, the Micron board does not anticipate major changes in direction, but instead aims to “ensure we continue to invest in areas of the business that will accelerate Micron’s market and technology position and enable timely delivery of new and innovative products,” a company statement said.

SanDisk is based in Milpitas, Calif., bordering San Jose in Silicon Valley. Micron has an office there. Mehrotra will work there and in the Boise headquarters.

Durcan, who announced his retirement after 32 years with the company, will stay on as an adviser until August. He leaves a legacy as a strong CEO, especially for someone who never planned to have the job.

In early 2012, Durcan announced he was leaving his post as Micron’s president and chief operating officer to spend time with his family. Then on Feb. 3, 2012, CEO and board chairman Steve Appleton was killed in a crash of an experimental aircraft near Boise Airport.

“I don’t think there is any question he rescued Micron at a moment when no one knew what was going to happen next,” Boise State University President Bob Kustra said after Durcan’s retirement announcement.

Durcan plans to stay in Boise. He has accepted a position on the St. Luke’s Health System board of directors.

“We deeply appreciate the immense contributions that Mark has made to our company,” Micron said.

David Staats: 208-377-6417, @DavidStaats