A new book on former Intel CEO and legend Andy Grove is out now ("Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American"), and appears to be worth the read. I'm still wading through the first few chapters, but it's clear the book is very thorough (written by a historian with full access to Grove), starting with his early days growing up amid the HOlocaust fears in Europe.
Grove, of course, made his name in the 80s and 90s as the combative, visionary leader of Intel. Along the way as the book discusses, he fought off prostrate cancer, and emerged as one of the business leaders of our time, even winning Time's Man of the Year award in 1999. To many, Andy was the Michael Jordan of the business world. See Amazon
I came to Intel in 1992 from BusinessWeek partly drawn by the lure of Intel's powerful leader...I'd read perhaps a dozen articles and was drawn by his vision, and the rising star of Intel. (see posting on my life at Intel).
Alas, my first assignment was supposed to be writing Newsweek advertorials for Andy...but the project vaporized before I got my family to town. "Better create something else," my boss said. It was my introduction to the technology industry and Intel--fleeting, uncertain, ever-changing (This sure wasn't Kansas, or Texas..)
It was a fascinating ride for me. But in the end I came away with mixed feelings about Intel.
In many ways it was pretty ruthless, a Darwinian company where you were on your own. (I was laid off in 2001 and 10,500 more are on the way out this month. When the company needs to shed costs, or bodies, it doesn't hesitate. See Intel Layoffs.)
Still, I always had admiration for Andy, and his predecessor, Gordon Moore.
He steered the company through treacherous waters and created a well-oiled machine that withstood brutal competition and a fickle marketplace. He was a brilliant technologist AND manager, something you rarely see. He was powerful AND personable. When you were speaking to him you always felt like he was one step ahead--yet, at the same time, completely focused on you. While combative, he could also be very personable. When I'd write something he really liked, he'd send me a compliment--"you're like a Picasso," he said once.."this is a work of art" referring to a story I wrote about the making of the Pentium processor, and the human effort that went into it. Intel managers called these "Andy-ismss" and they were treasured.
I've also seen the other side of Andy.
Once I had to talk to one of his aides, and stood outside his cube while he ripped apart a senior manager for failing to meet objectives (at Intel they call it "managing by objectives" or MBO.)
And Intel was a tough place. One of my first weeks there I recall seeing a young (30ish) PR manager sitting at her desk crying. A tech rag had blasted Intel in an article, and her boss (then head of PR) had lashed out at her. Of course, you couldn't blame Andy for every over zealous manager. But he had the major hand in creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. The annual performance reviews, combative meetings, ocassional manager lashings--all were about keeping people in line, on the edge..and competitive.( amazingly, it was an even tougher place before I arrived...in the late 80s and 90s they tried to tone down the sharp edged culture with concepts like "constructive confrontation" and actually trying to better groom managers).
Andy created an amazingly disciplined company with far stronger processes than most technology companies, and willingness to sacrifice whatever it takes to succeed. I was stunned several times when I'd go into a meeting and an hour later they'd killed a program without hesitation--there were no sacred cows. Except one: the Intel Inside program (which I had a chance to work in)..Even Intel's biggest critics admit this was a brilliant marketing program.
Still, I wonder what Andy really thinks of Intel today (he doesn't
comment on it). The army-like machine he created may not be well suited
for today's toss and tumble world, where competitors come from every
direction. And his motto "only the paranoid survive" seems like
something out of another older era at a time of companies like Google
and yes, Apple, thriving with much different approaches. While other companies are
stressing diversity, collaboration and global thinking, Intel's military like process driven culture seems out of step.
I'm not here to criticize a legend or throw water on Andy's parade. I'm sure the book, which delves deep into his Hungarian roots, is worth the read..And he's certainly one of the business legends of our time.. But I would like to ask him, what do you think of your old company and its culture and direction today? What would you have done differently to navigate through today's market? See interview with author and historian Richard Tedlow here: HBR interview