In 1968, Intel founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce hired their first employee, a 32-year-old Hungarian immigrant who a decade earlier had escaped a homeland ravaged by the effects of World War II and the ensuing Communist rule to find a place for himself in the United States.
The hiring of Andy Grove would help transform the brand-new semiconductor company into one of the cornerstones of Silicon Valley’s evolution into the center of the technology world. The perseverance and determination that enabled him to survive Nazi Germany’s occupation of Hungary and the country’s subsequent existence behind the Iron Curtain would drive Intel to become a key player in the PC revolution, making the component inside the system as important as the system itself.
He would also have an outsized influence on others who would rise to the top of the high-tech industry, guiding along the way the likes of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell. In 1997, he was Time magazine’s Man of the Year.
Grove died March 21, at the age of 79, leaving behind a legacy that few could match, even in an industry that likes to talk about its legacies. He was named Intel’s president in 1979, became its CEO in 1987 and was the chip maker’s chairman until 2004. Intel is now the world’s largest semiconductor company, its reach extending beyond PCs into everything from the data center to the Internet of things. It’s a bellwether for the industry, a company that last year made $11.4 billion on revenue of $55.4 billion.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement. “Andy made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.”
Other tech leaders commented on Grove’s death.
“I’m sad to hear that Andy Grove has died,” former Microsoft CEO Gates wrote in a tweet. “I loved working with him. He was one of the great business leaders of the 20th century.”
“Remembering Andy Grove, one of the greatest ever,” Dell CEO Michael Dell wrote. “Teacher, Friend, Leader. Told it like it was and made it happen.”
Internet pioneer and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote that Gove was “the best company-builder Silicon Valley has ever seen, and likely will ever see.”
It’s a wonder that Grove was able to reach such heights of achievement. He was born Andras Grof in September 1936 in Budapest, and his country was quickly swallowed up in the tumultuous times that marked the middle of the 20th century. He was an 8-year-old boy who, during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, was forced to hide with other families as the Germans looked to empty Budapest of Jews. After the war, the family tried to survive under Soviet occupation. In 1956, at age 20, Grove escaped by crossing the border into Austria, and then came to the United States to stay with relatives in New York City.
He went to the West Coast, where he earned a Ph.D in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and then joined Fairchild Semiconductor. In 1968, he joined Moore and Noyce at the new company, Intel.
Over the next three-plus decades, Grove was a driving force behind the rise of Intel as the world’s top chip maker and a foundational company of the Silicon Valley tech industry.
“Andy approached corporate strategy and leadership in ways that continue to influence prominent thinkers and companies around the world,” Intel Chairman Andy Bryant said in a statement. “He combined the analytic approach of a scientist with an ability to engage others in honest and deep conversation, which sustained Intel’s success over a period that saw the rise of the personal computer, the Internet and Silicon Valley.”
Former Intel CEO Andy Grove Dies at 79
Over the years, Grove also gave his views of business. Most notably were his viewpoints on why some companies thrive while others die off. Most famous was his belief that “success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” He also said that “bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
Regarding technology, he believed that innovation was inevitable, despite how the world viewed it.
“Technology happens,” Grove said in 1997. “It’s not good, it’s not bad. Is steel good or bad?”
Almost a decade later, he said, “Technology will always win. You can delay technology by legal interference, but technology will flow around legal barriers.”
Many in the tech industry reflected back on what Grove meant to them and to the world.
“Andy Grove was one of the giants of the technology world,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet. “He loved our country and epitomized America at its best.”
Pat Gelsinger, a longtime Intel executive and now CEO of VMware, wrote: “Today the world has lost a great man in Andy Grove. A friend and mentor for many years. Forever thank you for all you have done for me.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff called Grove “a tremendous positive force on our industry & community.”
Intel CEO Krzanich, who has been with the chip maker since 1982, talked about his former boss’ legacy.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants in our work—none bigger than Andy Grove (1936-2016),” he wrote. “You’ll be greatly missed.”