Goodbye to a Founding Father: Andy Grove, 1938–2016

Andy Grove
Andy Grove, 1938 – 2016

On March 21, 2016, we lost Andy Grove, a founding father of our industry. Andy was a first-generation Hungarian immigrant who became employee number one at Intel. After earning his PhD at Berkeley, he worked with Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor until Moore and Noyce co-founded Intel; Grove joined them there on the day of Intel’s incorporation.

Born in Budapest, Andy Grove fled to the United States via Austria at the age of twenty to escape then-communist Hungary. In his own words from his autobiography, he

. . . had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution,’ the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint. . . [where] many young people were killed; countless others were interned. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians escaped to the West.”

Grove worked at Intel for the remainder of his career, rising to the position of CEO in 1987. He remained CEO until ill health forced him to relinquish the position in 1998, and he remained chair of the board until 2004. During his time at Intel, he guided the company from its beginnings as a fledgling start-up until it became the dominant processor company in the world. He was central to IBM’s decision to utilize the Intel 8086 processor in its original IBM personal computer, kicking off the revolution from which we all currently benefit. Without Andy Grove’s leadership at Intel, it could be argued that we might still be using terminal connections to mainframe-type computers. Even if this seems farfetched, certainly personal computing would have had significantly different players on the field.

Grove was also central to Apple’s period of success kindled by the return of prodigal son Steve Jobs as CEO. Another first-generation immigrant, Jobs idolized Andy Grove and often asked him for advice—including advice on whether to return to Apple. Without Jobs, Apple would have continued to meander through its corporate life as an also-ran instead of becoming the dominant player it is now with its popular iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Pro products.

It has pained me personally to see so little written about Grove’s passing, compelling me to write this. Although I never met him, his life has permeated many facets of my career, starting with my decision to move into IT rather than continue down the road to becoming a barrister. In the mid-1990s, I was working in the planning department of a small utility company to fund my way through university when I was issued my first personal computer to aid in productivity. The thing landed on my desk, and to quote my manager, “You use these things at Uni, so you’re the F$Cking Expert.” The rest, as they say, is history.

All of you who read this article have been touched in some way by this quiet genius who achieved so much.

What is more interesting is that he was a first-generation immigrant, taken in from what was then a bogeyman-pariah Warsaw Pact country. Imagine how many other future geniuses we are stopping from reaching their potential with our current outlook on refugees.

Andy Grove is survived by his wife of fifty-eight years, Eva, and two daughters. Rest in Peace.

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