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SanDisk CEO to ride off into the sunset

Goodbye Eli Harari. Hello Sanjay

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SanDisk founder, CEO and chairman Eli Harari is to retire at the end of 2010, after 22 years with the firm.

It's a planned event with the replacement CEO being Harari's co-founder, Sanjay Mehrotra, who is currently SanDisk's president and chief operating officer. He gets the CEO's office on January 1, 2011 and was promoted to the board of directors last week.

Harari was an Intel employee working on EEPROM - electrically erasable programmable read-only memory, and then flash technology. He left to start his own company but that failed. Then he joined up with Mehrotra and a Jack Yuan in 1988, to start the company that would become SanDisk. It went public eight years later and its current market capitalisation is $9.53bn.

The revenues for its latest quarter were up 61 per cent on the year to $1.18bn.

The company makes flash memory cards for digital cameras and mobile phones, Cruzer USB memory sticks, and Sansa music players. It has a notebook solid state drive line but is not anywhere near being a dominating player in that line as it is with digital camera flash cards.

It had a Sansa SlotMosic flash music player in 2008, available with pre-loaded memory cards. Apple's iPod and the iTunes store however dominate the music player market, notwithstanding the Sansa products having better functionality in several areas.

Highlights of Harari's time at SanDisk include the joint fabrication deal with Toshiba. This gives it a supply of chips and Toshiba helped it see off a takeover bid from Samsung in 2008. This was thought to be driven by Samsung's wish to avoid paying future license revenues for multi-level cell (MLC) technology. Eventually it caved in and signed a new licensing deal.

By adding more cells to a flash a supplier can increase its capacity and lower its per-GB cost. Currently there are several 2-bit MLC products available with 3-bit MLC in the wings as it were. SanDisk has 4-bit MLC technology which other flash suppliers may have to license if they want to have product in the 4-bit MLC space

SanDisk's new chairman will be Michael Marks, a former CEO of Flextronics, president of Riverwood Capital, a venture capital firm, and a board member since 2003.

Harari will have an advisory function at SanDisk for a couple of years after he gives up the CEO position. The whole CEO changeover looks to be driven by a wish for continuity. ®

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