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IT Industry Mourns PC Pioneer Andrew Grove

Many IT pros who have benefitted from the rise and growth of the Intel microprocessor that fueled the WinTel-based PC industry owe a portion of their careers to Andy Grove, who died last night at the age of 79. Although the cause is not immediately known, Grove, who survived prostate cancer in the 1990s, had suffered from Parkinson's disease in recent years and had contributed to finding a cure to both diseases.

Grove was a legendary figure in Silicon Valley and played a key role in the formation of the infamous WinTel alliance, where he and Microsoft Founder and then-CEO Bill Gates saw their respective companies mushroom from small startups into the most important technology providers in the world during the late 1980s until the end of the 1990s. At the time Grove became CEO in 1987, Intel revenues were $1.9 billion and on his watch the company ballooned into a $26 billion company when he stepped down in 1998.

"Grove played a critical role in the decision to move Intel's focus from memory chips to microprocessors and led the firm's transformation into a widely recognized consumer brand," the company acknowledged in the announcement of his death. Grove championed the decision to exit the DRAM business and bet the company on the growth of x86-based PC microprocessors amid mounting and unsustainable price pressure from Asian providers of memory.

 "In my mind, that was probably the most fateful decision Intel made," said Crag Barrett, a company veteran who succeeded Grove as CEO, in a Bloomberg interview. "It really was the second birth of Intel."

Technically Grove was not an Intel founder but was brought on board the day the company was incorporated in 1968 by Founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, where all three had worked at Fairchild Semiconductor.

Grove was named president under then-CEO Moore in 1979 and took the reins from Moore in 1987 when networked DOS computers had begun replacing functions once the primary domain of mainframes and host-based minicomputers. But PCs at that point in time were still relatively rare in the home. Grove was known to have better business acumen and operational skills. In the years that followed, notably with the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990, the PC industry began its rapid rise with Grove and Gates at its epicenter, though each played very distinct roles and their dealings were at times combative. The two would also be at the focus of huge, widely publicized antitrust suits.

"Andy Grove foresaw the eventual breakup of the vertically integrated computer industry, and was able to specialize in creating the core component of computing -- the microprocessor," wrote Michael Blanding, a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge staff writer. "And then he championed that silicon part with the famous 'Intel Inside' marketing campaign. Blanding's assessment of Grove came last year in the context of the release of Strategy Rules, a book by Harvard professor David Yoffie and Michael Cusumono, MIT Sloan School of Management a distinguished professor. The book compared and contrasted the management approaches of Grove, Gates and Apple Founder Steve Jobs based on decades of studying the three of them.

"The notion that you could brand a product that no one had ever seen and that no one understood what it did was brilliant," Yoffie told Blanding of Grove. "That changed the entire structure of the semiconductor industry forever." Gates last night tweeted that he was saddened to learn of Grove's death. "I loved working with him. He was one of the great business leaders of the 20th century."

Among others who paid tribute was VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, who spent decades at Intel as a senior executive before arriving at VMware. "Probably no one person has had a greater influence in shaping Intel, Silicon Valley, and all we think about today in the technology world than Andy Grove," Gelsinger told The Wall Street Journal's Don Clark. "I would not be where I am or who I am if it were not for the enormous influence of Andy as a mentor and friend for 30 years."

Unlike Gates, who came from a wealthy family, Grove was a Jew born in Hungary who escaped persecution from the Nazis and later the Soviets before arriving in New York City, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering from the City College of New York and later a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Grove also authored a number of influential books, perhaps most notably Only the Paranoid Survive. Barret noted Grove's firm and demanding style. "Andy really created the corporate culture at Intel, the confrontational nature of the culture, the problem-solving nature of the culture, the 'don't be afraid to take a risk' part of the culture. Those were all built into his DNA. He kept asking 'why?' to get to the root cause, solve the root cause, don't let anyone give you any BS along the way."

The Bloomberg report included an excerpt from Grove that pointed to his childhood and the impact the Nazi occupation had on him. "People who have lived with terror do exactly that," he said. "You get used to horrible things happening and go on with the rest of your life."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/22/2016 at 1:02 PM


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