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Andy Grove: 10 Things He Taught Us

As news of Andy Grove’s death sweeps the world, I’m immediately reminded of my early years in the IT industry — as a cub reporter for InformationWeek in the 1990s. While I mostly covered software and networking, Brian Gillooly had the Intel beat. And it was through Gillooly’s weekly coverage that I came to respect Andy Grove’s leadership.

Grove essentially was Intel’s first employee, became Intel’s President in 1979 and CEO in 1987. He served as Chairman of the Board from 1997 to 2005. During his tour of duty, Intel’s revenues grew from $1.9 billion to more than $26 billion, Intel said.

By the time I graduated from college in 1992 and arrived at InformationWeek, the PC revolution was in full swing. Sure, software standards like Windows vs OS/2 were still being worked out. And PC Bus architecture was still hotly contested. But through it all, Intel just kept on gaining momentum and market share as a microprocessor supplier.

As Bill Gates stated this evening on Twitter:

“I’m sad to hear that Andy Grove has died. I loved working with him. He was one of the great business leaders of the 20th century.”

Beyond the Revenue Figures

Andy-Grove-6Grove is widely credited for driving that success. But Grove’s impact was felt far beyond the chip market. Among the 10 takeaways in my mind:

1. Entrepreneurs Can Stick Around: We all know folks who launch, build and sell companies — and then move on to launch new companies. While Grove technically didn’t launch Intel, he was the company’s first employee. And he was a serial entrepreneur within the business, helping to invent and reinvent the IT market multiple times without jumping from company to company.

2. You’ve Got to Partner: Instead of building end-to-end systems, Intel sold its technology to PC makers and other systems builders. Sure, more and more technology surfaced on Intel’s motherboards. But ultimately, Andy Grove knew Intel couldn’t build markets on its own. The result: At a time when IBM built and sold closed-system mainframes, Intel was one of the first “channel friendly” IT businesses in the world.

3. Only the Paranoid Survive: The title of his best-selling book became a mantra for business builders in all markets — far beyond Silicon Valley and the IT sector. The book explained how businesses must transform during strategic inflection points… or risk becoming irrelevant.

4. Eat Your Young: Instead of milking products for profits, Grove drove Intel to cannibalize its own businesses — releasing new product generations that essentially made Intel’s previous chips look dated before their time.

5. Complex Technologies Can Become Consumer Brands: What is a microprocessor? The “Intel Inside” campaign from the 1990s removed some of the mystery. Though certainly not all of it. Sure, consumers gradually began to understand that Intel’s chips were the “brains” of a PC. But that didn’t fully explain Intel’s technology. Not that a full explanation was needed. Instead, Intel’s ads drove consumers to actually demand PCs with Intel’s processors. Mission accomplished. Consumer brand established.

6. Engineers Can Dominate Business Markets: Long before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs rose to power, Grove “studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York, and completed his Ph.D at the University of California at Berkeley in 1963,” Intel notes. And yet, Grove is best known for the business decisions that helped to shape PC economics.

7. Immigrants Can Reshape the U.S. Economy: Admittedly, we’ve known this lesson since the birth of our country. But during the current election cycle, it seems like immigrants are often vilified. Let’s not forget Grove’s story. Born András Gróf in Budapest, Hungary, Grove immigrated to the United States in 1956-7 having survived Nazi occupation and escaped Soviet repression, Intel notes. He spent roughly 60 years in the United States, becoming one of the most successful business leaders of all time.

8. You Can Talk Openly About Prostate Cancer: After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he authored a 1996 cover story in Fortune that explained his decision to undergo an unconventional, but ultimately successful treatment, Intel notes. At the time, such a frank and open discussion about Prostate Cancer was rarely found.

9. Never Forget Where  You Came From: Grove provided $26 million to the City College of New York to help establish the Grove School of Engineering at his alma mater, Intel said.

10. Never Forget Where You Came From, Part II: Grove and his wife, Eva, were married for 58 years and had two daughters and eight grandchildren, Intel said. Andy and Eva met in New York in the 1950s, when he was a busboy and she was a waitress.

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