Western Digital CEO to retire

Stephen Milligan, Western Digital CEO, will retire when the disk drive giant finds a successor. He will then take an advisory role until September 2020 to help an orderly succession.

WD announced the news along with its latest quarterlies ended Oct 4. Revenues in Q1 were $4bn and net loss was $276m. The company forecasts next quarter revenue of $4.1b -$4.3bn, which is more or less equal last years’s $4.23bn.

According to Milligan fiscal year 2020 is “off to a good start. The continued success of our capacity enterprise drives for the data center was the primary driver of the upside we experienced in the fiscal first quarter,” He said in a statement. “The overall demand environment remains solid. We continue to believe the flash industry has passed a cyclical trough, with improving trends across our flash product portfolio.”

Steve Milligan

Steve Milligan

WD’s praise for its soon-to-be-departed CEO was fulsome. He “has led the Company’s ongoing evolution from a provider of storage components to a global diversified enabler of data infrastructure. He also led the acquisition of SanDisk in 2016, which further positioned Western Digital as a long-term growth brand.

“Under Milligan’s leadership, Western Digital has built a strong portfolio of HDD and flash products, including industry leading capacity enterprise drives and 3D-flash technology, that uniquely positions the Company to provide new architectures and capabilities to manage the volume, velocity and variety of data.”

This leaves out the fact that he set up WD’s data centre systems business which it is now exiting.

Under his leadership WD bought Tegile and its flash and disk storage array business in August 2017. He combined this with WD business unit HGST’s March 2015-acquired Amplidata object storage business. Milligan was running HGST at that time.

Now that data centre storage business is being dismantled, with the Tegile business sold to DDN and the archival object storage up for sale. Getting into the data centre storage systems business was a mistake. And it happened on Milligan’s watch.

Milligan also pushed the WD-Toshiba NAND foundry joint venture to near breaking point when Toshiba was trying to sell its interest to raise capital, with lawsuits and foundry lockouts threatened by Toshiba.

Good news in Q1 shipments?

WD shipped 29.3 million disk drives in the quarter, fewer than the 34.1 million reported a year ago but it’s the second quarter showing a sequential rise. Exabyte shipments were up 23 per cent as its 14TB data centre drives were bought in large numbers; WD doesn’t reveal Y-o-Y exabyte per cent changes nor its actual exabytes shipped number.

A chart shows the data centre disk drive upwards trend. 

Client Devices is comprised of notebook and desktop HDD, consumer electronics HDD, client SSD, embedded, wafer sales and licensing and royalties. Client Solutions is comprised of branded HDD, branded flash, removables and licensing and royalties. Data Center Devices and Solutions is comprised of enterprise HDD, enterprise SSD,data centre software, data centre solutions and licensing and royalties.

The data centre line shows a distinct upward trend. This was driven by disk drive sales rather than SSDs, as a second chart shows.

Data centre disk shipment units were up and so too were client (PC and notebook) disk drive shipments.

The chart shows a decline in total disk drive unit ships – dotted purple line – has bottomed out.