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March 25, 2016

News & Opinion: Andrew S. Grove: 1936 - 2016

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 12:30 PM – Filed under:

As I was reading Jeffrey E. Garten's From Silk to Silicon, the book that we're giving away this week profiling the ten individuals—dating back to Genghis Kahn—that Garten believes have most influenced globalization, I noticed only one of the ten was still living. That person was Andy Grove. 

And Andrew S. Grove, born András István Gróf, passed away on Monday.

in The New York TImes, tells us that: 

At Intel, Mr. Grove helped midwife the semiconductor revolution—the use of increasingly sophisticated chips to power computers—that proved to be as momentous for economic and social development as hydrocarbon fuels, electricity and telephones were in earlier eras. … And in 1997, he was chosen Man of the Year by Time magazine for being “the person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and the innovative potential of microchips.”

 

His journey to those heights was far from preordained. In his book Swimming Across, Grove tells us the story of his early days:

I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1936. By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint.

 

He also overcame scarlet fever at the age of four, though it left him with permanently damaged hearing, which he dealt with by learning to read lips and studying harder than his peers. (The Times obit tells us that, years later, "When answers from engineers and executives angered him, Mr. Grove ripped off the bulky hearing aid he wore like earphones and slammed it on the table.") But how did he get from that beginning to his almost mythological place in Silicon Valley?

Well, it started with an escape from Hungary. To tell of the final stages of that harrowing journey, Jeffrey E. Garten quotes from Grove's aforementioned memoirs:

After a while we emerged from the woods. I could see some faint lights far across an open field. "Those lights are Austria," [the farmer who was guiding us] said. "Head toward them and don't take your eyes off them," he said. … After what seemed like miles and miles, the lights finally came close. Had we made it? We snuck up to the first house that we could see. Dogs immediately started barking in the dark. We again threw ourselves to the ground. A man came out of the house holding a kerosene lantern over his head, and called out—in Hungarian—"Who is there?" My heart stopped. … "Who is there?" he repeated. We hesitantly picked ourselves up from the ground and forced ourselves to approach. When he saw us, he smiled a big, warm smile and said, "Relax, you're in Austria."

 

Garten continues:

They headed for Vienna and found it was filled with international relief agencies trying to help escapees. András applied to the US consulate for political asylum, and after a few weeks he received permission to go to America.

 

His long nightmare was over.

 

But the paranoia would stay with him and inform the rest of his life and career. Indeed, as Times piece reiterates, "Mr. Grove’s famous slogan, 'Only the Paranoid Survive,' became the title of his 1996 best seller describing his management philosophy." Only the Paranoid Survive was picked by Jack Covert, our founder and former president, as one of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.

After arriving in America, Andrew Grove would complete his chemical engineering studies at the City College of New York, where he "graduated at the top of his class despite struggling with English and impaired hearing." He landed in California to do his PhD work at Berkeley, after which he would accept a job at Fairchild Semiconductor, which is where he would meet Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. These three would build Intel (a story brilliantly told by Michael S. Malone in The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company), and the rest, as they say, is history.

I could discuss Grove's confrontational, hard-driving, and acerbic management style, and tell you why Jeffrey Garten believes it was his oversight and coordination, and his shedding of management layers that would lead to "inventing a management process that would make Moore's law work in the real world." But I'd rather leave you with a note from Clayton Christensen, a man who knew him well, and What [He'll] Miss About Andy Grove:

[H]e never believed that he and his colleagues had the answer. They always were arguing about everything. He knew that they needed to make decisions, of course. But he viewed each decision simply as a road marker that noted progress along the path of argument about how to improve.

 

It is now up to a new generation of leaders to continue down that path. Hopefully they don't believe they have all the answers for how to do so already.

Having survived the upheaval and destruction of the Nazis and Soviets, two regimes that thought they did have the answers and tried to alter the course of human history forever in that ideological image on their way to a thankful extinction, Andrew Grove was perhaps the most important member of Silicon Valley’s first generation, a set of individuals and companies that really have changed life on this planet forever.

And now that he's on the other side, perhaps Andrew S. Grove can finally rest in some peace.

Image from Intel Newsroom.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.