Intel's Andy Grove: A Silicon Valley Pioneer

Andy Grove, Intel's longtime chief executive, died March 21 at age 79. He leaves a profound legacy within the company, as well as in the computer industry at large.



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Andy Grove, 79, was Intel's first employee in 1968. He played a critical role in the decision to move Intel’s focus from memory chips to microprocessors, and led the firm's transformation into a widely recognized consumer brand.

Grove, who died March 21, became Intel's president in 1979 and CEO in 1987. He served as chairman of the board from 1997 to 2005. Under his leadership, Intel produced the chips, including the 386 and Pentium, that helped usher in the PC era.

Grove was lauded by venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, in a September 2015 award ceremony at the Churchill Club, as "the man who built Silicon Valley."

Born in Budapest in 1936, Grove immigrated to the US in 1957, having survived the Nazi occupation and Soviet repression. After earning a PhD in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1963, Grove was hired by Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor. When Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel in 1968, Grove was their first hire, starting work on the day the company was incorporated.

Grove became president of Intel in 1979 and led the company through its most dramatic change, from a company based primary on memory chips to the largest microprocessor manufacturer in the world. Along the way, the company forged partnerships with system manufacturers such as IBM and software companies such as Microsoft to create the modern PC industry.

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One of Grove's early challenges in moving Intel from a DRAM-based business to one that specialized in microprocessors was convincing customers that they wanted a processor which was, in many ways, not as powerful or sophisticated as its competitors at the time. The "Intel Inside" campaign was the answer -- and it has been part of the computer marketing landscape for more than 30 years.

Grove's command of the company's technology fortunes was no less sure than his command of partnerships and marketing. He led the company to continually shrink trace and die sizes while raising clock speeds from 4.77 MHz for the 8086 processor used in the original IBM PC to 3.5 GHz for the Pentium G4500 that sits atop the company's workstation processor lineup today.

(Image: Intel)

(Image: Intel)

When computer industry notables wrote tweets and other social media messages in memory of Grove, though, they tended to mention his management style and generosity as a mentor, rather than business alliances and clock rates. It's not that he was a gentle manager -- far from it -- but those who worked for him were often changed by the experience.

The author of two books on management -- High Output Management (1983) and Only the Paranoid Survive (1996) -- Grove promoted a work culture built around what he called "constructive confrontation" in which ideas were challenged and brutally dissected. Grove's own ideas were not immune, and managers spoke of meetings in which they yelled at Grove with no thought of repercussion. The secret to succeeding in a meeting (or argument) with Grove was to back up proposals with data and support opinions with facts. Rigor in pursuit of strategy and success would become a key part of Grove's Silicon Valley legacy.

Intel's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.
(Image: Jason Doiy/iStockphoto)

Intel's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.

(Image: Jason Doiy/iStockphoto)

Grove's impact on the industry reached far beyond the walls of Intel. Generations of computer industry entrepreneurs and executives viewed him as a mentor. Grove was famously generous with his time for young technology leaders, mentoring Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg, among others.

Grove was successfully treated for prostate cancer in the mid-1990s and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2000. He retired from Intel as chairman of the board in 2005.

Many in our industry leave technologies as their legacy. Some leave companies as their heritage. It can only be said of a select few that they left behind an entire industry. An argument can be made that Andy Grove is president of that elite group.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio
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