So when did the knives come out at Seagate?
To lose one C-level exec may be regarded as a misfortune...
Sentiment must have turned against Watkins continuing as CEO. Board members may have been reminded that competitor Western Digital's performance stock-wise and marketwise had been better than Seagate's. Watkins has admitted that Seagate misjudged the need for notebook drive capacity increases, giving WD the opportunity to make up ground and surpass Seagate in notebook drive technology, which it duly did.
The board members may have been reminded that WD was far more effective in selling external drives, whereas Seagate has two distinct external drive brands and has not combined its own and the acquired Maxtor external drive operations. It was being comprehensively out-marketed and outsold here. Financially WD had performed better too, both in share price and market capitalisation terms.
In fact, WD with its Velociraptor 10K drive has the sexiest hard drive on the market.
The board may also have been cognisant that Watkins had earlier admitted he didn't expect the recession in August and September and, clearly, December took him by surprise too. It may well have collectively felt that its CEO should have steered the Seagate ship better, anticipating the rise of notebook drive demand and foreseeing the recession and its course with more alacrity. Should he be trusted to do better in the future?
Seagate spokesperson Forrest Monroy said: "There was no conflict or falling out between Bill and the board or senior management team; it was a situation in which the board made the determination that Steve was the right person to lead the company right now."
So, if Bill Watkins was now felt to be the wrong leader for Seagate, who was the right one?
At this point we can rule ex-COO David Wickersham out of the story. He played no part in these board ruminations as he'd resigned a few days before. Monroy said: "Dave Wickersham's resignation was an event separate from Watkins. Dave resigned last week, and details of his departure were finalized within a timeframe that coincided with communicating that on Monday." Robert Whitmore, the chief technology officer, was appointed to replace Wickersham with immediate effect on Monday.
What a steep learning curve the man faces. He'll know something about the innovation side of Wickersham's job, but the rest will only amount to second-hand and worse knowledge.
The reason for Wickersham's resignation is not known. However, it must have added to the level of stress within Seagate's executive and board ranks. The COO was going and now a CEO change was being contemplated.
Back to speculation: there are two possible options we could imagine here. First, another CEO candidate was identified and asked to be interim CEO and cut operating Seagate's cloth as the board now wished, but said no. Secondly, the board had already decided that chairman Stephen Luczo, a previous CEO, was the best interim choice.
So the board, Luczo, or Lydia Marshall, the lead independent director and chair of the nominating and corporate governance committee, told Watkins that they thought he should no longer continue as CEO. He didn't resign and they didn't fire him from the company, as the statement issued on Monday made clear: "Mr. Watkins will be advising Mr. Luczo in order to ensure a smooth transition. In addition, Messrs. Luczo and Watkins will confer over the next week to determine what role, if any, Mr. Watkins will have at the Company going forward."
This picture of Seagate's board considerations and communications with Watkins is speculative and founded on a belief that some set of events and considerations like this must surely have happened for the actual events to have taken place - but it could well be wrong.
Monroy warns: "I can't speculate on the sequence or content of what the board discussed as it related to our financial results or a management change, and would discourage you or other reporters from committing such speculation to print, since that would be a lot of guesswork that readers would mistakenly equate as fact." Consider yourself warned.