His goal is full recovery, and he appears well on his way. Early this year Intel's top brass started talking about upgrading leadership in China. Intel is doing fine in China, but the three parts of the business -- R&D, manufacturing, and sales and marketing -- never got properly aligned. The stakes are higher than ever because next year China is expected to become the world's largest computer market.
Maloney saw a professional opportunity. He had spent the late '90s in Hong Kong running Intel's sales and marketing across Asia, and he is very well connected there. "In many ways Sean is more recognized in Asia than he is in the U.S.," says Otellini. Maloney asked Margaret what she thought of relocating. Margaret, who is his third wife (they married in 2004) and half-Chinese, had taken a leave of absence from her job as a vice president of public relations at solar startup Tigo Energy, and she was game.
With Margaret's thumbs-up, Maloney e-mailed Otellini a concocted dialogue between the two men:
"I know, I'll go to China ..."
"You can't be serious ..."
"Yes, I am ..."
Maloney's e-mail went on like a teasing haiku, from a man who says that "never bothering to give up, discipline, and fun" are the traits that make him successful. Fun? "Yeah, fun. Even when the world looks totally down, you've got to look up."
In May, Otellini named Maloney chairman of Intel China. "It's good for Sean and great for the company," says the CEO, adding that he imposed one requirement: that Maloney spend his first seven weeks in intensive language training in Mandarin. "I thought it was good to give Sean a gigantic challenge," Otellini explains in all seriousness.
Fair enough, but the big question looms: Is Maloney the once and future Intel CEO-elect? "I think he's still in there," replies Otellini, who turns 61 in October and must retire at 65. "He has to get back to about where he was," Otellini adds. Asked whether Maloney must be the communicator he once was, Otellini says, "I think that's unfair. If he got back to the level that you and I communicate at, it would be enough." He adds, "It's also about stamina. But I don't count him out."
With their three youngest children -- the twin girls and baby Catherine -- the Maloneys moved to Beijing in July. Most mornings Sean gets up early and rows at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park -- in a straight line and at a competitive clip. A fellow rower might notice that his right palm is more calloused than the left. That is because his right side is still slightly numb, causing him to grip the oar a little tighter with his right hand. He's working eight to nine hours a day, and building his stamina, because he has to. The job in Beijing has him overseeing 8,600 employees in 20 offices in 17 cities. Intel China's revenue last year was over $7 billion, about 16% of Intel's total worldwide.
When I ask Maloney whether the past 18 months have changed him, he simply replies, "I am incredibly grateful for my life." While he appreciates his family more than ever, he is the same workaholic with the same drive that got him this far. "Never give up," he says. "No matter what anyone says, you can attain your goals if you never give up."
In his spare moments, Maloney sometimes watches a video on his computer. The video shows him in an interview -- the last time he spoke before he had his stroke. "I need to be like that," he told Otellini when he played this video for his boss. And so Sean Maloney will watch it again and again and again until he is.