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Canadian AI chip startup Tenstorrent’s CEO and CTO have swapped jobs. The company’s former CTO, legendary chip architect Jim Keller, is taking on the CEO role while former CEO Ljubisa Bajic is moving into the CTO role.
In a LinkedIn post, Keller wrote: “As we look ahead, my friend Ljubisa Bajic and I have decided to swap roles to continue to grow and deliver AI and CPU products to address the challenges of next-generation compute.”
Bajic wrote on LinkedIn: “Technology has always been both my passion and our priority at Tenstorrent. As we continue our mission to address the compute demands for AI and ML it has become more important than ever that I give it my full focus.”
Tenstorrent was founded 6 years ago in Toronto by Bajic with several co-founders. Bajic has been CEO up to now. Keller, a well-known CPU architect who has worked at Tesla, Apple, AMD and most recently Intel, knew Bajic from his time at AMD and became the company’s first investor. Keller joined Tenstorrent as CTO in January 2021.
“When [Keller] came on board two years ago, he and [Bajic] discussed making the switch when it made sense,” Bob Grim, Tenstorrent’s VP of communications, told EE Times. “[Bajic] wanted to focus on technology and it made sense to go ahead and have [Keller] assume the CEO role.”
Asked why now is the right time to make the switch, Grim said that the main driver is that Bajic wants to make the change to a technical role, adding that “it just felt right to them.”
“[Keller] has been involved with Tenstorrent since the beginning, but more importantly the C-level staff, the board, and the company believe in his vision for us and are confident in his ability to lead us there,” Grim said. “He will continue to have a strong focus on the technology in his new role. [Keller’s] transition into CEO has appeared effortless—he has a strong presence that really resonates with Tenstorrent’s employees.”
Keller has a storied history in CPU design, having worked on Tesla Hardware 3 (Tesla’s Full Self-Driving chip), designed several generations of mobile processor at Apple, and led AMD’s Zen x86 core design. While this will be his first CEO position, it’s not his first startup experience.
In the late nineties, Keller worked on MIPS-based processors at startup SiByte, which was acquired by Broadcom, where he then served as chief architect. He then became VP of engineering and chief architect at low-power mobile processor company PA Semi, which was acquired by Apple after Keller left to go there.
In the last two years at Tenstorrent, Keller has brought on board new chief customer officer David Bennett, formerly president of Lenovo Japan and CEO of NEC Personal Computers, who is also an AMD veteran. Keller has also brought in a new operations team and has effectively become the face of the company, Grim said.
On the technology side, Keller has led Tenstorrent’s move into RISC-V CPU design. While Tenstorrent’s next-gen BlackHole chip will use multiple SiFive X280 RISC-V AI CPUs (the X280 is designed as a control processor for AI accelerators), future generations of Tenstorrent chips will use the company’s in-house RISC-V design, Ascalon, which was presented at the RISC-V Summit a few weeks ago.
Tenstorrent’s data center inference and training chips, Greyskull and Wormhole, are in production now.