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‘You learn a lot when you’re in a space where you have very challenging roles’

Ann Kelleher was appointed an executive vice-president of Intel in 2021, the first time an Irish person had held such a senior role

“I have one rule in life: help people as you go along. And when you need help, get it back.”

Cork’s Ann Kelleher is sharing the philosophy that has helped propel her to the senior ranks in global chip powerhouse Intel. Heading up the technology development division of the business, the Irishwoman has been credited with the turnaround of the unit by Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger, where she was responsible for the research, development and deployment of next-generation silicon logic, packaging and test technologies.

We meet during a special visit to Intel in Co Kildare. The company has just opened Fab 34, a cutting-edge facility and one of the building blocks of the chipmaker’s future plans.

Kelleher is there to hand over the torch, so to speak, to the high-volume manufacturing group, marking the moment when the technology goes from being in development to being in production.


It marks yet another milestone in her career, which has been varied with Intel.

The small room in which we are sitting in Intel’s IR1 building holds some specific significance for Kelleher as it was the very room where she had her first job interview before joining the company.

“I did my interview in March 1996 in this room. They offered me the job and I thought I’ll go join for a couple of years, maybe three, four years, and then I’ll go back to research. And that’s 27, 28 years ago,” she recalls.

Back then, she was a process engineer. She had earlier worked with what is now known as the Tyndall Institute in Cork, leading a process integration group, and had a master’s, a PHD and a postdoctoral qualification under her belt.

“One of my jobs was to constantly do project writing so I could get funding for my group and afford to pay them and do the research,” she said. “As part of that, there was always a section: ‘what is your industrial experience?’. I didn’t have any, but I would tap dance around it to try to fill in the section. When Intel was starting its Fab 14 factory in Ireland, they asked me to come to interview.”

You learn a lot when you’re in a space where you have very challenging roles

Kelleher has since held a number of senior roles at the global chip giant. After almost three decades with the company, many people would long ago have moved elsewhere in search of new challenges, but Kelleher has found plenty to keep her engaged at Intel.

“I had a fast-paced job. I had access to working on world-changing technology. I also got to move; I started as an engineer in Ireland and then I worked my way up to being factory manager here on site,” she says.

That kicked off a round of moves that has seen her build experience in various parts of the company and work her way through the ranks.

She was factory manager at Fab 24 in Ireland for around two years before applying for the plant manager role at Fab 12 in Arizona. That was followed by a stint in New Mexico before she moved on to head up Fab Sort manufacturing for Intel, a role that saw her assume responsibility for all aspects of the company’s high-volume silicon manufacturing that she held until 2015.

“Within that, I’ve done the supply chain side, the construction side, the quality side, I’ve done the manufacturing for both fab as well as assembly test,” she says.

That willingness to take on new challenges has paid off for the Cork woman. In the summer of 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, then-chief

Bob Swan asked Kelleher to take over technology development. She was later appointed executive vice president and general manager, technology development at Intel, the first time an Irish person had held such a senior role.

“In certain cases I took roles that other people didn’t take or wouldn’t because they felt they were very risky or very challenging. And in doing those I learned a lot because you learn a lot when you’re in a space where you have very challenging roles. I would say there’s a few of them here. We got a lot of help from people along the way,” she says.

That’s where her rule of helping people as you go has come from, and it has served her well. Almost three decades later, she is still excited about working for Intel, particularly at a time when the technology is advancing rapidly.

Only a few years ago, people were talking about Intel as if it were on the way out. The company had, some said, missed the boat on mobile chips and been overtaken by rivals. There were manufacturing missteps that hindered its progress.

Gelsinger has injected new life into the chip maker since taking over in 2021, lured away from VMware to replace Swan. He laid out an ambitious project: five generational leaps in four years that would put Intel back on top.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing; the company is coming out of a round of pay cuts that saw senior figures in the company take a reduction in pay of between 5 and 15 per cent.

But things are improving, Kelleher indicates, and that is in no small part to the technology that will be produced at Intel’s Leixlip campus, with Fab 34 and its EUV lithographic machines.

Intel has a roadmap for the future that includes the five nodes in four generations pledge by Gelsinger, and changes to the technology itself through PowerVia.

“That is a fundamental change in the architecture of the transistor. The last change to the architecture of the transistor was when we moved to FinFET back in 2011. Intel was first into the industry with that,” says Kelleher. “In conjunction with that we’ve also been working on leadership packaging. The days of where the package was just the protection around the piece of silicon and then gave the signals and the power in and out are gone. Now packaging is actually a key feature which will help us keep progressing Moore’s Law [that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years]. And we believe with our combination of advanced packaging, as well as what we can achieve from our process roadmap there will be about 1 trillion transistors in a product by about 2030.”

What’s very important is that there’s visible role models, because if there’s no visible role models, then people don’t see the possibilities of what diverse candidates can do

It won’t be an easy task though. The company has fallen behind Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in chip manufacturing, and is trying to regain its lost ground.

Kelleher is no stranger to difficult tasks. She studied as an engineer at a time when it was unusual for Irish women to take that career path.

“When I went to university in UCC there was five of us in a class of 55,” she says. “When I grew up at home my dad didn’t treat my brother and me any different. It was like ‘You’ve all got to do the jobs’. It didn’t matter that I was a girl, it didn’t get me out of doing the jobs, but we were treated very, very equally.

“So I came into the workplace not thinking about men and women in a workplace environment. I came into this thinking ‘okay, I can do the job so away I go’. If you have a mindset of ‘I can do the job’, then you go work at it and you go deliver. Probably from university, I was used to being where the predominant was male versus female. It was a case of, okay this is the way it is, away we go.”

Kelleher has kept that pragmatic, down-to earth-attitude. Home is in the US, but “home home” is in Cork. She has kept her Cork accent and is proud of her Macroom roots.

“I don’t think I could ever lose my accent. Every now and again when I go down home, I have to swap the words. The trunk of the car, the hood of the car, you pump gasoline. I swap the words more in the US than I do here so that basically I can be understood.”

The tech industry has come a long way in terms of recognising the issues that a lack of diversity in hiring can cause. But the job is not yet complete.

Recent research indicates that some companies pulled back on diversity, equality and inclusion measures as the tech winter bit and lay-offs were announced throughout the industry.

“I don’t think the journey of having enough diverse voices around the table will ever be done. And it is a journey. Sometimes we make good progress and then sometimes it slips back and then we make progress again,” Kelleher says.

“But what’s very important is that there’s visible role models, because if there’s no visible role models, then people don’t see the possibilities of what diverse candidates can do.”

Intel is now firmly positioning itself for the future. It is building factories in the US, Israel, Ireland and Germany. The investment to upgrade and expand its facilities worldwide has been expensive, but Intel is hoping that by shifting the business towards a foundry, where it will make chips for other companies as well as its own, that it can make it all worthwhile.

In its sights is TSMC, which produces components for some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Apple, Qualcomm and Nvidia. Under the new plan, Intel will split the manufacturing and the design of its own products, so one arm essentially becomes “fabless” in the way that ARM and others already are and will become another customer for its own foundries.

That investment has taken some of the sting out of the loss for Ireland of the new chip production facility to Magdeburg in Germany. The decision, which was announced in March last year, was originally for a €17 billion facility; later expanded to a €30 billion investment, including €10 billion of German state subsidies.

In April 2022, then-general manager for Intel Ireland Eamonn Sinnott announced he would oversee the German project, another loss for the Irish operation.

Ireland, meanwhile, got the €17 billion investment that backed Fab 34. Last month, it began producing wafers using Intel 4 technology, which uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. The process transfers patterns to a silicon wafer, creating the blueprints for integrated circuits and allowing the company to print circuitry smaller and more precisely than before, and deliver significant improvements in performance and power efficiency.

Intel 3, the next generation of technology, is “manufacturing ready” and will also be produced at the Irish plant.

Ireland’s ability to continue to attract investment from Intel might be tested by potential government subsidies in the US and some big member states in the EU in a bid to lure new investment and secure their supply of chips.

But Kelleher does not foresee any looming issues on the horizon for Intel’s Irish operations.

“I’ve always said as long as Ireland maintains a pro-business approach, as long as Ireland, basically, understands well what is available from other countries, maintains this capability of workforce [it will be fine],” she says.

“Because it’s more than just dollars or euro or subsidies. You need a location which is pro-business, enables you to operate very effectively, has a strong workforce, has the legislative stability as well. So I think if Ireland can maintain all of those, and as long as it keeps its eye on doing that and how it continues to be competitive and pro-business, then I think it will be as good as anywhere else in the world.”


Name: Ann Kelleher

Job: Executive vice-president and general manager, technology development at Intel

Age: 58

Lives: Oregon, United States

Something we might expect: She has three degrees from University College Cork, including a PhD in electrical engineering.

Something that might surprise: She considered pursuing a veterinary degree before opting for electrical engineering.