Andy Grove (1936–2016,) the illustrious cofounder and CEO of Intel, passed away earlier this year. Grove was arguably the most influential tech executive the Silicon Valley has ever seen. He achieved fame and success in his adopted country and provides an outstanding modern-day immigrant success story.
Modern-Day Immigrant Success Story
Born András István Gróf to a middle-class Jewish family in Hungary, he survived the Nazi occupation by taking a false name, hiding with Christian families, and escaping the heartbreaking fate of half a million Hungarian Jewish people. After the war, when the Russians occupied Hungary and installed a repressive Communist government, Grove’s father was forced to take up menial work despite having been emaciated from torture at a Nazi labor camp.
During the brutal response to the anti-Soviet 1956 Hungarian Revolution following Stalin’s death, Grove’s family hid themselves in a coal cellar whilst Soviet artillery shells destroyed their neighborhood. Grove joined a flood of people who took advantage of the pandemonium to walk across the border into Austria. He fled to the United States in 1957, arrived in New York with less than $20 in his pocket, and settled in with relatives.
As a child, Grove was afflicted with scarlet fever and an ear infection that left him nearly deaf. In spite of his hearing impairment and an inadequate knowledge of English, he studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York and graduated at the top of his class. Grove learned to lip read and then deciphered his notes after class. He recalled to The New York Times in 1960, “I had to go over each day’s work again at night with a dictionary at my side.” He then earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Berkeley and joined Fairchild Semiconductor. When his managers Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel, Grove went with them as director of engineering.
High Performance Management and Paranoia
Intel evolved swiftly. As President and later CEO, Grove brilliantly led Intel’s strategy and operations, established a near-monopoly on CPUs, and played a central role in the PC revolution. During this tenure as CEO from 1987–98, Intel’s stock price rose 32% a year. After relinquishing his role as Intel’s CEO in 1998 and as Chairman of the Board in 2005, he mentored prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
Grove was famous for his rigorous, no-nonsense, confrontational, non-hierarchical management style; his approach still dominates the Silicon Valley culture. He zealously demanded high performance. In 2004, the Wharton School him the most influential business leader of the past quarter-century, over Microsoft’s Bill Gates, General Electric’s Jack Welch, and Walmart’s Sam Walton.
Grove was a conspicuous voice for reason in the immigration, offshoring, and jobs-creation debates. He was also a prolific author and public speaker. His autobiography Swimming Across (2001) recounts the first 20 years of his life—from childhood in Hungary up until his move to California. His other autobiography, Only the Paranoid Survive (1996,) describes how companies should deal with emergent competitors, transform themselves, and perhaps change the nature of the industry itself. Forbes magazine calls it “probably the best book on business written by a business person since Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors.” High Output Management (1995) explained how to maximize productivity and has become a cult classic in Silicon Valley. One on One with Andy Grove (1988) compiles his “Dear Abby”-style newspaper Q&A column on work- and career-advice.
Five Principles of Career Success
Wrapping up One on One, Grove summarized his advice on career, management, and leadership with five suggestions:
- FIRST—and this is very important—enjoy your work. It’s impossible to like all of it. Sometimes you’ll chafe under its unrelenting nature, other times you’ll be bored, but overall you must enjoy it. I am convinced that most people will like their work if they can see that what they do makes a difference and if they approach their work with a bit of zest, maybe even playfulness. Doing so introduces a bit of levity when it’s most needed and leads to camaraderie.
- SECOND, be totally dedicated to the substance of your work, to the end result, the output; not how you got to it or whose idea it was or whether you look good or not.
- THIRD, respect the work of all those who respect their own work, from vice presidents to sales clerks, from maintenance technicians to security officers. Nobody is unimportant: It takes all levels and all jobs to run a functioning organization.
- FOURTH, be straight with everyone. I hate it when people are not honest with me, and I would hate myself if I weren’t straight with them. This isn’t an easy principle to stick to. There are always many reasons (better to call them excuses) to compromise a little here or there. We may reason that people are not ready to hear the truth or the bad news, that the time isn’t right, or whatever. Giving in to those tempting rationalizations usually leads to conduct that can be ethically wrong and will backfire every time.
- And, ALWAYS, when stumped, stop and think your way through to your own answers!