Intel’s Andy Grove logs off

andrew-groveFormer Intel boss Andy Grove, who managed to save the company in the 1980s, and helped create the PC revolution has died. He was 79.

Grove’s youth under Nazi occupation and escape from the Iron Curtain inspired an “only the paranoid survive” management philosophy and made Intel the outfit it is today.

He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer in the mid-1990s but no-one is actually saying how he died.

The press obituaries politely describe him as being “mercurial” but “visionary” and certainly he did work out that shifting from memory to processors to serve the new PC industry was agood idea. At the time Intel was down the gurgler.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said Grove made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. But perhaps not journalists.

Robert Burgelman, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business who started teaching management classes with Grove in the late 1980s, called Grove “one of the most incisive thinkers that I have ever come across”. He said Grove’s technical and strategic abilities were critical in building Intel and fending off threats from Asian competitors.

“I don’t think Intel would have been Intel as we know it, and therefore the US chip industry would not have been what it is” without Grove, Burgelman said.

Grove managed to transit the company from memory to PC processors and out of the clutches of the mainframe industry. But he did not exactly win many friends with his combatitive style.  He could be vindictive to those who crossed him.

He is also famous for one of Intel’s most famous PR cock-ups. In 1994 , Intel’s flagship Pentium microprocessor had a major calculating flaw which it turned out Grove knew about but thought it  too insignificant too fix.

Grove’s response to the outcry was to require customers who wanted to return flawed chips to call Intel and convince the company they needed a replacement. Later he gave in and set aside nearly a half-billion dollars for a no-questions-asked exchange programme.

Grove wrote several books, including “Only the Paranoid Survive,” a 1996 treatise on the science of managing crises, and his 2001 autobiography, “Swimming Across,” a harrowing memoir of Grove’s childhood.

He was born in Hungary as Andras Istvan Grof. He fled to America by boat in 1957 and westernised his name.  He survived scarlet fever at age 4, though it permanently damaged his hearing. As a Jew growing up in Nazi-occupied Hungary, he survived the Holocaust by moving frequently, boarding with family friends and taking on an assumed name. Then he survived Stalin in a run for the Austrian border.

He arrived in the US aged 20 with no cash, with poor English – which makes his career all the more rags to riches.  His personal fortune is believed to be  $400 million, according to Forbes magazine.

He enrolled at the City College of New York, where he studied engineering and paid his way by working as a student assistant. He moved west with his wife, Eva, and earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, after which Grove landed his first post-Ph.D. job at Fairchild Semiconductor, founded by the “traitorous eight” employees who left William Shockley’s legendary Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.

Two of the eight, Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, went on to found Intel. Noyce also invented the first commercially viable integrated circuit during his time at Fairchild. Grove was Intel’s third employee, though Intel considers him one of the Santa Clara, California, company’s founders.

Grove was named Intel’s president in 1979, took the chief executive job in 1987 and in 1997 added the chairmanship to his duties. He stepped down as CEO in 1998, and relinquished his chairman title in 2005.

Time declared Grove its Man of the Year in 1997. It said he was the “person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and innovative potential of microchips,” the core ingredient of the digital revolution.

Time wrote: “His character traits are emblematic of this amazing century: a paranoia bred from his having been a refugee from the Nazis and then the Communists; an entrepreneurial optimism instilled as an immigrant to a land brimming with freedom and opportunity; and a sharpness tinged with arrogance that comes from being a brilliant mind on the front line of a revolution.”