When he stepped into the role, Intel was in the throes of a declining PC market, which meant that it needed to begin looking elsewhere beyond its PC and data center CPU business in order to stay afloat. Krzanich said Intel was a "single-product company" where PCs were 80% of the business. Intel's PC unit now makes up a much smaller share of the company's overall business, but it's still managed to buck industrywide declines and continues to grow.
He quickly saw that emerging technologies like cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and 5G wireless networks could become big growth markets for the semiconductor company. Cloud computing and autonomous systems both generate a lot of data, which is where he believed Intel could step in. The company began positioning itself as a data center first company, making the chips that can analyze and process all the information flowing from new, complex systems like cloud computing platforms.
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It means that Intel is no longer restricted to the approximately $45 billion PC CPU market and can now claim a growing share of the massive data center chip market, which Krzanich estimates to be about $260 billion.
"You add all the silicon up in the data centers and the available market we can address and it's a $260 billion TAM," Krzanich said in an interview with TheStreet. "We're like 40% of it. So we look at it as, yes, we are very strong in one segment, but we're really expanding out."
As he looks back on his 35-year history at Intel, Krzanich said he never expected to rise to the role of CEO. Krzanich, 57, joined the company as an engineer in 1982 at Intel's New Mexico plant and was later named COO in 2012. He said he "was and always will be" an engineer, but that being chief executive has forced him to get out of his comfort zone.
"The role of CEO has pushed me to learn many new skills and spend time in areas I wouldn't have normally," Krzanich said.
Krzanich also offered up some advice for other CEOs who might be navigating big changes, or for the next generation of business leaders who aspire to be C-suite executives. His biggest regret is that he wishes he'd gone faster.
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No CEO ever says that they wish they took longer to make a decision, he said. Executives need to be comfortable with diving head first into a problem, instead of delaying their decision making process.
"I believe that now more than ever, we all sit and ponder and worry and debate our decisions for far too long," Krzanich said. "What we really need to do is get the company moving in a direction and be willing to constantly review and be willing to modify our decisions."
Krzanich pointed out that not every market that Intel ventured into was ultimately successful. Intel missed out on the move to mobile, but thought it could capitalize on the rise of tablets. The tablet market went from growing 30% to declining in a matter of years, which meant Intel had to exit most of those investments.
But ultimately Krzanich's willingness to open up the business to new technologies paid off. Cloud, storage and networking, memory and modems have all become big growth areas for Intel, he said.
"50% of our company is that new stuff, while we've grown revenue and profitability each year," Krzanich explained. "So you can look at my peers and say there's very few companies that have done this big of a transition of its products and grown the company."
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