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Home / India / Sculpting a geek god

Sculpting a geek god

The parallel rise of a paranoid man and personal computers is explored skilfully in this biography by Richard Tedlow.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2007, 18:15 IST
Narayanan Madhavan
Narayanan Madhavan

Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American
Author: Richard S. Tedlow
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 598
Price: Rs 695
Format: Hardcover

So you thought geeks were boring? Try Andy Grove for size. The chairman and CEO of chip-maker Intel Corp during its most difficult and successful period, which coincided with the personal computer revolution, is not just another engineer who made big money.

Born to Jewish parents in Hungary, Grove’s personal life and early years are as fascinating as his later ones. Grove’s
mother was a gentle sophisticate who suffered rape during Budapest’s Russian occupation, while his father survived the
Nazis to return after years to a home and career shaken by the Stalinist years. Andy escaped at the age of 20 in 1956, the year of Hungary’s famous uprising against the Soviets, and landed in the US in 1957 to be nurtured by open-speaking, avuncular professors and a nation drunk on President Dwight Eisenhower’s gospel of fun and happiness amid a post-war boom.

Andras Istvan Grof changed his name and much else in the years that followed. He joined Fairchild Semiconductor, which reminds one of India’s own Wipro as an early incubator of high-tech entrepreneurial people who went forth to make it big elsewhere. Gordon Moore, the quiet, academically inclined founder of Intel, and the young, energetic, outspoken, hardworking and emotional Grove make quite a contrast — the types that build vision and excellence in harmony.

Moore became the giver of the law that says computing power of microprocessors will double every 18 months in the
foreseeable future, while Grove is famous for his pithy message: “Only the paranoid survive.”

Intel’s spectacular success was no cakewalk, but its methods, powered by Grove’s famous spunk and paranoia, are a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit and culture of Silicon Valley.

Tedlow chronicles well the frustrations involved in straightthinking engineers learning business and general management in an age when MBAs were not really running business in the world of high-tech.

Intel went public in 1971, after being founded not far from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968, a year of tumultuous student protests. Largely untouched by the social upheavals, Moore and fellow founder Bob Noyce were busy laying the foundations of a computing revolution that would effect the next generation of students two decades later.

Everything mattered in the making of the Grove we know: his learning curve, restlessness and constant struggles with inter-personal relations — and some failures in attempts to find new markets. Intel even experimented with a watch project, Microma, which was a less-than-gentle reminder that hardcore engineers should not be running consumer brands. But fate later bestowed on the company the ‘Intel Inside’ consumer advertising campaign that made the microchip brand a household word and Grove a global celebrity.

A strategic partnership with IBM at the turn of the 1980s, just when home and personal computers were taking off, gave Intel the ballast after long years of relatively less enchanting success. Bill Gates and Microsoft happened later and so did the internet, but it was clear that re-invention and tenacity were the hallmarks of Intel — or at least, the Hungarian Jew who courted the Land of Opportunities with a vengeance.

Tedlow, a Harvard Business School professor, sketches human relations and social history with methodical rigour and literary flourish. All, while chronicling the management methods and technological achievements of a man whose life offers a peep into the rise and growth of computers and the internet.

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