When Sam Foss penned, “Give me men to match my mountains” he was talking about taming America. For the mountains that are the technology industry, Andy Grove was the right man. His vision and drive, and most of all his focus on perfect execution, helped transform Intel from a small memory chip supplier into the largest, longest-lived, and most-successful, semiconductor company in the world. He passed away yesterday, at the age of 79.
Like many who have shaped Silicon Valley, Grove came to the US as an immigrant from his home country — in this case Hungary, where he was born Andras Graf, and left to escape Soviet repression. After getting his PhD at UC Berkeley, Grove joined Fairchild Semiconductor, and left it to become the first employee of Gordon Moore (of Moore’s Law) and Robert Noyce at startup Intel in 1968. By the time Grove retired from Intel in 2004, it had annual revenue of over $26 billion.
Intel: From pioneer to powerhouse
Grove is credited for many of the initiatives that helped make Intel a chip powerhouse, including the transition from memory chips to processors, the 386 and Pentium product families, and the Intel Inside campaign. But most of all, it was his management style that helped shape Intel’s winning culture. At an early board meeting of my startup, one of my investors — a former Intel executive under Grove — noticed that we weren’t starting meetings on time. He turned to me and asked, “Are we going to be an Intel-like company, or one of those other companies?” He made his point, which typified the way Grove ran Intel as a tight ship — including making many exempt employees clock in and out long after most of the Valley had abandoned the practice.
Social media outpouring from those who Grove touched during his long career was immediate, with dozens of stories of how he helped young Stanford students get their start in the tech industry, or provided life lessons to then early-career Intel employees. The words kind, encouraging, respectful, and hero were common — something that can’t always be said for driven CEOs. In an era where so-called unicorns are celebrated for months of hype, and any company with a multi-year track record is lionized, the nearly 50-year success record of Intel Corporation stands head and shoulders above almost every other, and former CEO and Chairman Andy Grove was as responsible as anyone for that amazing result.