Andy Grove, architect of Intel and modern tech business, is dead

Founding father of Silicon Valley created a thrusting relentless attitude at Intel

Andrew “Andy” Grove, the former Intel CEO who has died aged 79, was the embodiment of the American Dream and one of the great architects of Silicon Valley. With Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore he formed a powerful triumvirate at Intel but it was Grove who was the leader and relentless driving spirit behind the greatest chip maker in the world.

Grove was born in Hungary and as a Jew escaped appalling prejudice, well documented by himself and elsewhere, under successive Nazi and Soviet occupations. In the US he reinvented himself with a new name and it is perhaps not too pat to say that his childhood experiences were at least part of the impetus for his famously hard-driving attitude and relentless pursuit of excellence.

Grove helped steer Intel away from memory chips and towards the microprocessors that were the brains in the personal computers that would change the world. Even today Grove’s influence can be felt everywhere. The thinking espoused in his book Only the Paranoid Survive can be observed in the febrile, ultra-competitive technology sector. His talk of “inflexion points” has passed into the language. As much as anybody he exemplified Clayton Christensen’s notion of the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma’, having stepped away from one sector to embrace the new rather than milking dwindling revenues by staying with an old formula.

Almost like his original name of Grof he was often gruff, short and caustic but he could also be dourly funny and his conversation crackled with electricity and livewire intelligence. He passed on his unapologetic disrespect for mediocrity and vagueness to others at Intel like his successor Craig Barrett and the current VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, and arguably to peers like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy and Bill Gates.

When I first heard him speak in the early 1990s, Intel was in a bitter legal confrontation with AMD over intellectual property and the right to make clones of x86 processors. He called that Californian neighbour the “Milli Vanilli of semiconductors” after a pop group discovered to have mimed to recordings put out in their name. His fencing partner at AMD was the equally sharp Jerry Sanders who responded with the poetry of Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” I once made a call to AMD’s press office requesting an opinion over Intel having allegedly given AMD incomplete technical documentation, thereby breaking an agreement between the pair. The response: “typical, despicable Intel behaviour”.

Grove’s Intel was to use the example of AMD’s subsequent successes with its 386 processors as an example never to let competitors have a squeak of a chance. The company became famed for executing on its development projects and also for a teak-hard attitude to processes that remains in place today.

In later life Grove suffered Parkinson’s disease and dedicated much of his time to improving healthcare through digital research and analytics. Intel later made a $740m investment in Cloudera, a maker of ‘Big Data’ analytics software often used in medical R&D.


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