Re­mem­ber­ing the “one per­son who built Sil­i­con Val­ley”

Un­sen­ti­men­tal and tough, Andy Grove raised a gen­er­a­tion of tech leg­ends who idol­ized him

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - By Jim Aley, with Ian King

Sil­i­con Val­ley is full of log­i­cal ab­so­lutists, peo­ple who will fol­low a line of ar­gu­ment wher­ever it goes, no mat­ter what the hu­man reper­cus­sions. It’s a place where some se­ri­ously pro­pose se­ced­ing from the U.S. to cre­ate a tech­no­log­i­cal utopia, free of med­dle­some govern­ment and the in­fe­rior ma­jor­ity.

An­drew Grove, who died f rom the ef­fects of Parkin­son’s dis­ease on March 21 at the age of 79, could be as bru­tally log­i­cal as any­one in the tech cos­mos he helped bring into ex­is­tence. But he wasn’t only that—he was a ra­tio­nal­ist with a deep hu­man­ity, who may be re­mem­bered as much for his men­tor­ship as his in­tel­li­gence. He hated the word men­tor, though. “Cor­po­rate men­tor­ing pro­grams are a cha­rade,” he told this mag­a­zine in 2011. “The mo­ment some­one says ‘men­tor’ or ‘mentee,’ I get waves of nau­sea.” Yet at In­tel, the semi­con­duc­tor com­pany he helped build, he cul­ti­vated a se­ries of tech­ni­cal as­sis­tants, sev­eral of whom be­came lead­ers, too. Sean Maloney and Renée James both be­came top ex­ec­u­tives at the com­pany; Paul Otellini went on to be chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. Grove also helped along younger en­trepreneur­s in the Val­ley through­out his ca­reer—among them Larry El­li­son of Or­a­cle, Steve Jobs of Ap­ple, and Mark Zucker­berg of Face­book. “I never stopped learn­ing from him,” said Mi­crosoft co-founder Bill Gates in a state­ment to Bloomberg News. “He was at the fore­front of cre­at­ing the per­sonal-com­puter in­dus­try, and when­ever we spent time to­gether, I al­ways came away im­pressed by his bril­liance and vi­sion.”

Jobs and El­li­son once went to Grove’s house for his birth­day. They wanted to show their re­spect for one of the rare tech­nol­o­gists who ar­guably had even more im­pact on the cul­ture and

In­tel ex­ec­u­tives re­ferred to plan­ning meet­ings with him as a “Hun­gar­ian in­qui­si­tion”

in­tel­lec­tual rigor of Sil­i­con Val­ley than they did. Over din­ner, the two told him he was the only per­son they’d willingly work for. Grove replied that he wouldn’t have hired ei­ther of them. “A cou­ple of flakes,” he called them. He was at least half-se­ri­ous, or any­way didn’t crack a smile. “It didn’t mat­ter,” says El­li­son. “Both Steve and I ad­mired and re­spected Andy. We en­joyed all of our pre­cious time with him, in­clud­ing the mem­o­rable and char­ac­ter­is­tic abuse.”

I had the priv­i­lege of glimps­ing Grove’s unique ap­peal—an un­sen­ti­men­tal kind of em­pa­thy—at first­hand. In 2010, Grove sent me a Pow­er­Point deck full of bul­let points about re­viv­ing the job mar­ket in the U.S. and asked whether

Bloomberg Busi­ness­week would be in­ter­ested in an es­say on the sub­ject. We were, and he be­came, briefly, my writer, and I his editor.

Grove wanted the piece to ar­gue that the U.S. had frit­tered away its man­u­fac­tur­ing work­force, and with it much of its man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­per­tise. The coun­try, he said, had a mis­guided be­lief in the job-cre­ation power of star­tups. In his view, the only an­swer to per­sis­tent un­em­ploy­ment was scale-ups, not star­tups—big, sus­tain­able com­pa­nies that hired peo­ple by the thou­sands.

He was for­mi­da­ble, and a non­na­tive English speaker, which made his prose dif­fi­cult to edit. There were many drafts, rewrites, and heated con­ver­sa­tions, which of­ten ended with Grove say­ing, with what I took at the time as sar­casm, “Ok, Mr. Editor.”

He’d cer­tainly han­dled more dif­fi­cult chal­lenges than a mag­a­zine es­say. In

Only the Para­noid Sur­vive, the Hun­gar­i­an­born refugee wrote a man­ual on man­ag­ing through crises. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,

Swim­ming Across, he de­scribed how his idyl­lic up­per-middle-class Jewish life turned hellish dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion. The trauma con­tin­ued af­ter the Ger­man de­feat, af­ter the Rus­sians came and went, and then un­der the com­mu­nist Hun­gar­ian govern­ment, Moscow’s pup­pet. In 1956, Grove walked across the bor­der into Aus­tria and never re­turned.

Ar­riv­ing in the U.S. with less than $20 in his pocket, he was taken in by rel­a­tives in New York. He even­tu­ally moved to the West Coast to at­tend the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, where he earned a Ph.D. in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. In 1963 he joined Fairchild Semi­con­duc­tor, an early man­u­fac­turer of in­te­grated cir­cuits on sil­i­con wafers—the foun­da­tional tech­nol­ogy of com­puter chips. Five years later he fol­lowed Gor­don Moore and Robert Noyce out the door to help found In­tel. “I was scared to death,” Grove said in a speech on the com­pany’s 25th an­niver­sary. “I left a very se­cure job where I knew what I was do­ing and started run­ning R&D for a brand-new ven­ture in un­tried ter­ri­tory. It was ter­ri­fy­ing. I lit­er­ally had night­mares.”

Grove be­came CEO in 1987. What­ever fear he felt when he ar­rived at In­tel, he’d long since mas­tered and learned to use as a man­age­ment tool. His plan­ning meet­ings were known among ex­ec­u­tives as a “Hun­gar­ian in­qui­si­tion.” “Men­tor­ing with Andy Grove was like go­ing to the den­tist and not get­ting Novo­cain,” says Pat Gelsinger, a for­mer In­tel ex­ec­u­tive who went on to be­come CEO of VMware. “If you went into a meet­ing, you’d bet­ter have your data; you’d bet­ter have your opin­ion; and if you can’t de­fend your opin­ion, you have no right to be there.”

It wasn’t un­usual for pre­sen­ters to fail to make it be­yond the first slide be­fore hav­ing their care­fully pre­pared pre­sen­ta­tion ripped to shreds. The process was con­struc­tive sav­agery: It helped make In­tel the world’s largest chip­maker, a dis­tinc­tion it still holds, a decade af­ter Grove re­tired. “If you were to pick one per­son who built Sil­i­con Val­ley, it was Andy,” said Marc An­dreessen, the en­tre­pre­neur and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, dur­ing a 2015 Churchill Club award pre­sen­ta­tion. “Andy kind of set the model for what a high-qual­ity Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pany should be.”

That was the man I was edit­ing back in 2010. Even­tu­ally, af­ter much backand-forth, we had a mostly co­her­ent es­say—and had es­tab­lished a work­ing re­la­tion­ship. Our e-mail and phone ex­changes pro­ceeded in ac­cor­dance with his man­age­ment max­ims: en­gage in free and open de­bate where par­tic­i­pants would ar­gue vig­or­ously re­gard­less of rank, and, when the fights were done, “dis­agree and com­mit” to a course of ac­tion.

I still had one big prob­lem with his es­say, a rhetor­i­cal gap that needed fill­ing. Grove was sug­gest­ing, with­out quite say­ing it, that what the U. S. needed was some flat-out govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion to al­low com­pa­nies to cre­ate jobs. In the board­rooms of Sil­i­con Val­ley and be­yond, that’s heresy.

“Andy, peo­ple who read this are go­ing to at­tack you for be­ing some kind of com­mu­nist,” I told him on the phone.

“I know what com­mu­nism is,” said the man who es­caped life in Stal­in­ist Hun­gary. “And I am not a com­mu­nist.”

“They’ll dis­miss all this be­cause you’re a pro­tec­tion­ist,” I said.

“I don’t f---ing care,” he said, paus­ing af­ter each word for em­pha­sis. “If peo­ple think I’m a pro­tec­tion­ist, fine.”

We dis­agreed and com­mit­ted, and an edited, f-bomb-free ver­sion of that con­ver­sa­tion be­came the cul­mi­na­tion of his es­say: “I fled Hun­gary as a young man in 1956 to come to the U.S. Grow­ing up in the Soviet bloc, I wit­nessed first­hand the per­ils of both govern­ment over­reach and a strat­i­fied pop­u­la­tion. Most Amer­i­cans prob­a­bly aren’t aware that there was a time in this coun­try when tanks and cavalry were massed on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue to chase away the un­em­ployed. It was 1932; thou­sands of job­less veter­ans were demon­strat­ing out­side the White House. Sol­diers with fixed bay­o­nets and live am­mu­ni­tion moved in on them, and herded them away from the White House. In Amer­ica! Un­em­ploy­ment was cor­ro­sive. If what I’m sug­gest­ing sounds pro­tec­tion­ist, so be it.”

His break with rul­ing-class or­tho­doxy was strik­ing, but it wasn’t rooted in ide­ol­ogy. He was ap­ply­ing his usual in­tel­lec­tual hon­esty. In his mind, he was ad­dress­ing a sys­temic fail­ure— in this case, chronic un­em­ploy­ment— that threat­ened dire con­se­quences. There­fore, what was needed was logic to un­der­stand the causes of that fail­ure and de­vise a plan to elim­i­nate them. The ar­ti­cle gen­er­ated a lot of re­sponse, and Grove glee­fully for­warded ev­ery mes­sage or news clip, with sub­ject lines like, “still re­ver­ber­at­ing … .”

About four months af­ter the piece was pub­lished, we had din­ner at a sushi restau­rant in the Val­ley. His Parkin­son’s had pro­gressed, and his voice qua­vered as we talked about the story and some ideas for a fol­low-up. As we left, he of­fered me a lift back to my ho­tel and gave me an im­promptu tour of Sil­i­con Val­ley. We drove through Los Al­tos, not far from where Jobs grew up, and into Palo Alto, and on to the Stan­ford cam­pus. Grove pointed out the site of an old Fairchild Semi fa­cil­ity and talked about his days with Noyce and Moore. It was a sur­real, per­sonal trav­el­ogue through his­tory.

Out­side the ho­tel, I thanked him for din­ner, and we shook hands.

“Good night, Mr. Editor,” he called through his car win­dow. He laughed and drove off. <BW>

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