Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard Tedlow
This is a book that every businessman confronted with the problems of rapid change needs to read. Intel the giant technology company is Andy Grove, and Andy Grove is Intel. More than any other single individual, Grove left his footprint on this company. He started off as Intel’s 3rd hire; the first two were Gordon Moore, and Bob Noyce, two other Silicon Valley legends. By the time Grove was finished there were tens of thousands of employees.
You might recall that Gordon Moore, Andy’s mentor is the creator of the famous “Moore’s Law”. There are many variations of Moore’s Law, and Moore never called it a law by the way. Essentially it means that the computer power that can be placed on a chip doubles every 18 months, some say 2 years, and the cost drops by half. The law has basically held up since its inception in 1965.
Richard Tedlow, the author is a full Professor at Harvard Business School. He has obviously put his heart and soul into this book. Andy Grove did not read this book until it was finished, and published. He did not want to get into a shoot-out about what was in the book. You might recall that Grove wrote several books himself. One of them had the great title, “Only the Paranoid Survive”. I believe this biography is better than the books Grove wrote.
Grove has stated that the author knows more about him, than he knows about himself. Upon reading the book, Grove could not figure out how the author was able to obtain so much information about him. In the end, this is what an author is supposed to do, isn’t it? The vital concepts that I took out of Tedlow’s writings are:
1) Here’s a man that should have died three times before he got to America. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1946, as a Jewish born child he survives the Nazi invasion that included the extermination of 2/3rds of the Jewish population. He develops Scarlet fever, which should have killed him, and then the Russians defeat the Germans, and Andy survives the Russians who killed thousands of additional Hungarians.
2) Andy takes the enormously difficult step of leaving everything, his parents, his homeland, his friends, his groundings, and literally walks out of Hungary in the middle of the night during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Keep in mind, there’s no Internet, no television pictures of America, nothing to base a move on. He simply demonstrates undaunted courage in walking away from everything that is familiar.
3) He makes it to the US, lives with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx, and goes to City College of NY because it’s free and he has zero money. Graduating number 1 in his engineering class, he goes to California, and winds up at Berkeley where he earns a Ph.D.
4) He knew how to find MENTORS though, and this is a vital part of the book. You find great men, and MANAGE UP the relationship. From world renowned college professors, to the best known technical geniuses in the business world which include legends Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore, Andy Grove knew how to hitch his wagon to STARS.
Grove walks out of Fairchild Semiconductor to form Intel with Moore and Noyce with the financing provided by Arthur Rock, the most famous venture capitalist in Silicon Valley history bar none. Moore and Noyce get all the stock and Grove gets to buy in at a price ten times higher, even though he’s the number three guy in the company. He handled it well though. It did not seem to interfere with what he had to do. A lot of people would have had problems with the stock distribution from day one. I do Venture Capital as part of my business, I know.
Here’s a man who puts his nose to the grindstone, and comes up a winner. There are several hundred pages devoted to how Andy Grove transforms himself out of necessity into a businessman, something very few people in Silicon Valley know anything about. While the two big guys are getting all the credit, it’s Grove who keeps the place alive during the massive up-and-down cycles that this industry experienced over 2 plus decades.
You could very much make the case that if Andy Grove did not exist, than Intel would have never survived to be the company we all recognize today as the number one producer of sophisticated microprocessors in the world. It’s really all Grove. Science, and technology will only take you so far. In the end, you have to make a product that people, or companies want to buy. You have to make it reliable, and affordable.
Moore and Noyce could create such microprocessors without Andy Grove. Could they replicate them tens of thousands of times perfectly without Grove, not in a million years? Grove’s internal gift was his ability to take his own massive brainpower, and be flexible enough to apply it to areas outside his expertise, or circle of competence, as Warren Buffett likes to talk about.
In closing, I went through the whole book, and circled the words and phrases that the author used to describe Grove. Read some of these: He did not hesitate, he wasn’t frozen with fear. He had a survival strategy hardwired into him. He moves fast, is decisive, and effective. He is not weighed down by the past. He learned a tough, brusque, no-nonsense behavior.
When you are done reading this book, you will have lived in this man’s shoes for a while. You will know what it was like to live Andy Grove’s life. You can try on that life if you will, and see if this is the sort of life you would like to have lived. That’s what great reading is all about, isn’t it?