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Inside Intel's Andy Grove

11/10/2006 --

Historian Richard Tedlow examines the life and times of Holocaust survivor and Intel CEO in new biography.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Andy Grove, longtime chairman and CEO of computer chip-maker Intel and Time magazine's 1997 "Man of the Year," was born on the wrong side of history, says Harvard business historian Richard S. Tedlow, author of a new biography, Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American.

Born on September 2, 1936, in Budapest to Jewish parents, Grove contracted scarlet fever at age four and as a youngster underwent multiple surgeries to restore his hearing. So began what Tedlow described as an "oxymoronic life of adaptation and change and a laser-like focus."

Speaking at the Stephen M. Ross School's 2006 Reunion weekend on October 27, Tedlow went beyond the facts of Grove's life — survived the Holocaust, lived under Soviet occupation, escaped to New York at age 20, put himself through the City College of New York, earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1963, co-founded Intel in 1968 and became CEO in 1987.

Dean Robert J. Dolan and Richard Tedlow
In his fast-paced and often humorous presentation, Tedlow engaged the more than 250 alumni in the East Hall auditorium with stories and photographs of Grove at various stages in his life. Tedlow also joked about the November 18 U-M-Ohio State football game at Columbus, telling the alums, "Ohio State's colors are red and gray. They must be commies. You owe it to the country to win that game. The whole world is watching." In all, more than 1,000 alumni, family and friends participated in Reunion weekend festivities.

Tedlow, the Class of 1949 Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, talked about how Grove attacks problems. The author of Giants of Enterprise, selected by BusinessWeek as one of the best business books of 2001, spent several years researching and interviewing Grove, who also gave Tedlow all his notes while at Intel.

Grove, a self-taught manager and author of Only the Paranoid Survive, is suspicious of the word "leadership," Tedlow said. In business and in his personal life he cares more about what a person knows than the person's title or position.

When diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1995, Tedlow said, Grove became his own oncologist, studying the pros and cons of surgery and radiation implants. Based on that research, he chose radiation even though the physician who was to perform the procedure said if it were him, he would opt for surgery.

Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard Tedlow, November 2006

Another time, Grove had written an 8,000-word article for Fortune magazine. Bethany McLean, a 24-year-old reporter, found an error in one of his charts. In an e-mail to Tedlow describing the event, Grove wrote: "Bethany was a researcher assigned to my story. She was methodically going through factoids and all went well until she claimed she found an error in one of my graphs that I constructed from published data. After some back and forth, I conceded the point and nursed my wounded pride. The back and forth was heated at times.

"After I recovered, I wrote her one of my handwritten notes, thanking her for her thoroughness. During my next visit to Fortune a number of months later, I found out that the note and Bethany were much talked about. I asked to see her and in fact was introduced to her. In the process, I found out she was a boxer. Had I known that, I would have backed down earlier. I was not surprised when she turned out to be an early debunker of the Enron financials."

For McLean to stand up to Grove took courage, Tedlow said. "Andy can be extremely scary." But he also respects accurate data and will admit when he is wrong.

For Grove, now a senior adviser at Intel, Tedlow said "knowledge power" trumps "position power." Grove listens to middle management and people on the front line, the most knowledgeable people in the organization, to keep abreast of what is happening.

Other principles for growing a business on Grove's list:

  • Fear can be good and bad. Companies should be afraid of losing market share, but employees should not be afraid to speak up.
  • Learn by teaching. Grove continues to teach at Stanford University.
  • Let chaos reign, then rein in chaos. Generate as many ideas as possible before making a decision.
  • Dive deeply into the data.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Avoid the trap of the first version.
  • Test the tests. Challenge assumptions. When Grove was deciding how to treat his prostate cancer, he sent blood samples for prostate-specific antigen tests to two labs so he could compare the results.

"Andy's life story says a lot of wonderful things about America," Tedlow said. "He is very smart, clever and ambitious and became one of the master managers in the history of American business. It really is a hell of a story."

For more information, contact:
Mary Jo Frank
Phone: 734-647-4626