Former Intel CEO and Silicon Valley visionary Andy Grove dies at 79

22 Mar 2016

Andy Grove beside a picture of Intel’s founding team: Grove, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, has passed away aged 79. Regarded as one of the greatest businessmen of the 20th century and idolised by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Grove was one of the most influential figures in spearheading the growth phase of Silicon Valley that continues to this day.

Born in Hungary as András István Gróf, Grove was famed for his tough but inspirational management style and was a founding employee of Intel working alongside founder Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore – creator of Moore’s Law – who today survives as Intel’s chairman emeritus.

After surviving the Nazis in World War II, Grove escaped from Communist-controlled Hungary when he was 20 and finished his education in the US, where he initially arrived without a word of English.

Working as a busboy he met his future wife Eva Kastan, a waitress who was also a refugee. A passion for learning led to him achieving a chemical degree in engineering and a PhD in chemical engineering from Berkeley in 1963.

Soon after he rose quickly up the ranks at Fairchild Semiconductor where his work on the early development of integrated circuits and early semiconductors brought him together with Noyce and Moore. After Noyce and Moore founded Intel in 1968, Grove became the company’s third employee and worked initially as director of engineering.

Andy Grove

Andy Grove in 1969 holding an ad for the Intel 3101, the world’s first solid state memory device and Intel’s first product.

While being heavily oriented towards semiconductor design, the realities of managing manufacturing and leading a company through a marketplace struggling with competition against below-cost chip selling and dumping from Japan, Grove honed his management style.

Only the paranoid survive

Grove transformed Intel from being a manufacturer of memory chips into the world’s leading microprocessor producer and shaped the company to dominate the PC revolution thanks to the success of its Pentium processor.

In 1989, Intel located an overseas manufacturing operation in Leixlip – within six years a third of all Pentium processors consumed on the planet to sate the demand for PCs were produced by the Irish manufacturing operation. Today, the operation is still at the spear tip of Intel’s chip manufacturing and some groups are engaged in creating future chips for the burgeoning internet of things world.

During his tenure as Intel CEO, Grove oversaw a 4,500pc increase in Intel’s market capitalisation from $4bn to $197bn, making it the 7th largest company in the world with more than 64,000 employees.

Grove created a culture in Intel that allowed innovation to flourish and most of the company’s revenues were reinvested in R&D. One of his management styles was to encourage managers to anticipate and be prepared for change. His guiding motto “only the paranoid survive” became a title for a business book he wrote by the same name.

He never allowed his managers to rest on their laurels, pushing them to test new techniques and products and to always out-think the competition.

Disciplined and precise, Grove’s favourite saying was: “The devil is in the details.” Fostering a culture of “ruthless intelligence” he also encouraged workers at all levels to speak their minds and yell at him if necessary.

He also eschewed the trappings of power, had no airs and, instead of the CEO’s usual mahogany-panelled corner office, Grove insisted on using an 8x9ft cubicle like every other employee.

“Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction,” Grove said. “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years