Tuesday 27 September 2016

Visionary ex-Intel chief Andy Grove dies at 79

Published 22/03/2016 | 02:36

Andy Grove delivers the keynote speech on plug-in hybrid vehicles at the Plug-In 2008 conference in San Jose, California (AP)
Andy Grove delivers the keynote speech on plug-in hybrid vehicles at the Plug-In 2008 conference in San Jose, California (AP)

Andy Grove, the former Intel chief executive whose youth under Nazi occupation and escape from the Iron Curtain inspired an "only the paranoid survive" management philosophy that saved the chip maker from financial ruin in the 1980s, has died.

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Intel said Mr Grove, 79 died on Monday. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease and also battled prostate cancer in the mid-1990s.

Mr Grove, a Hungarian refugee born Andras Istvan Grof who fled to America by boat in 1957 and westernised his name, was instrumental in building Intel into the world's largest chip company during his 37-year career there.

He was a mercurial but visionary leader who helped position Intel's microprocessors as the central technology inside personal computers.

His bet-the-company gamble - moving Intel from memory chips to microprocessors in the mid-1980s to serve what was still a fledgling PC industry - helped rescue Intel from a financial crisis and set it on course to becoming one of the most profitable and important technology companies of all time.

"Andy made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said.

Robert Burgelman, a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business who started teaching management classes with Mr Grove in the late 1980s, called him "one of the most incisive thinkers that I have ever come across". He said his 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, Mr Burgelman said.

Intel created the world's first commercial microprocessor in 1971, but the company's primary focus was memory chips for mainframe computers. That was until the personal computer was invented and a new use for Intel's microprocessors emerged.

Mr Grove's leadership of that transition affirmed his status as a key figure in the digital revolution and an icon of business leadership, whose manoeuvres have been studied and dissected in management classes around the world.

Yet Mr Grove, known at times as combative and vindictive to those who crossed him, was also pilloried for his role in one of the biggest missteps in Intel's history: the company's intransigence after a major calculating flaw was discovered in 1994 in Intel's flagship Pentium microprocessor, an error that Intel had known about but deemed too insignificant to fix.

Mr 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. He later capitulated and set aside nearly a half a billion dollars for a no-questions-asked exchange programme.

His mentality helped shape a strict, often caustic management style that is now as much a part of Silicon Valley lore as Mr Grove's relentless focus on sharpening Intel's technological advantages.

He wrote several well-received 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 his childhood.

Mr Grove also dabbled as an advice columnist, penning a series of newspaper columns on workplace dilemmas that earned him the nickname Dear Abby of the Workplace.

His life was characterised by survival against all odds.

He got past scarlet fever at four though it permanently damaged his hearing. A Jew growing up in Nazi-occupied Hungary, he survived the Holocaust by moving frequently as a child, boarding with family friends and taking on an assumed name.

As the defeat of the Nazis opened the door for a brutal Stalinist regime, he made his escape in a daring run for the Austrian border.

Penniless refugee Mr Grove immigrated to the US at 20 and would go on to amass a personal fortune believed to be worth around 400 million dollars (£280m), according to Forbes magazine.

Overcoming a sizeable language barrier, 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 he landed his first post-PhD 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. Mr Noyce also invented the first commercially viable integrated circuit during his time at Fairchild. Mr Grove was Intel's third employee, though Intel considers him one of the Santa Clara, California, company's founders.

Mr 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.

In picking Mr Grove as its Man of the Year in 1997, Time magazine called him the "person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and innovative potential of microchips", the core ingredient of the digital revolution.

Press Association

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