Advanced Micro Devices said today that chief executive Dirk Meyer has resigned in a “mutual agreement with the board of directors.”

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker has appointed chief financial officer Thomas Seifert as interim CEO. The announcement comes as a big surprise just after the company debuted its major Fusion microprocessor family — which combines graphics and a microprocessor on a single chip — at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

Since Meyer has been a visionary CEO for AMD, which is a huge company but is always an underdog to Intel, his departure is an industry earthquake. In that sense, it’s on par with the announcement today that Intel will pay $1.5 billion to Nvidia in a six-year patent license agreement.

Meyer, 49, was a former chip architect and executive at Digital Equipment Corp. He became CEO in 2008, replacing Hector Ruiz, and has been a key visionary behind AMD’s chip strategy. During that time, AMD engineered a turnaround and outwitted Intel on a couple of fronts. As an AMD microprocessor design executive, Meyer and colleague Fred Weber came up with Opteron, the chip that gave AMD a foothold in the server chip market for the very first time. That started a long rebound for AMD and got Meyer the CEO job.

On Meyer’s watch, AMD extracted a billion-dollar settlement from Intel, ending antitrust claims. AMD also spun out Global Foundries, a chip making contract manufacturer, during the Meyer-Ruiz years.

The company announced its preliminary fourth quarter revenue and gross margin and affirmed that its product roadmap for 2011 is on track.

The CEO search committee will be headed by Bruce Claflin, chairman of AMD’s board. Claflin will become executive chairman as he assumes additional responsibilities during the transition. Seifert will maintain his current job as CFO and has asked not to be considered for the permanent CEO job.

“Dirk became CEO during difficult times. He successfully stabilized AMD while simultaneously concluding strategic initiatives, including the launch of GlobalFoundries, the successful settlement of our litigation with Intel and delivering Fusion (accelerated processing units) APUs to the market,” said Claflin.

”However, the Board believes we have the opportunity to create increased shareholder value over time,” Claflin continued. “This will require the company to have significant growth, establish market leadership and generate superior financial returns. We believe a change in leadership at this time will accelerate the company’s ability to accomplish these objectives.”

Seifert joined AMD in 2009 and has more than 20 years of general management, global operations and financial management expertise. Immediately prior to joining AMD, Seifert served as COO and CFO of Qimonda. Seifert said in a statement that AMD is entering 2011 with considerable product and financial momentum.

AMD said preliminary results show that revenue increased 2 percent in the fourth quarter to $1.65 billion and gross profit margin was 45 percent. The company reaffirmed its previous guidance disclosed in November.

[photo credit: Reuters]

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