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Digital Pioneer Andrew Grove Led Intel's Shift From Chips To Microprocessors


Tributes are pouring out across the Internet for Andy Grove. The former CEO of Intel died on Monday. His personal story is woven into the history of Silicon Valley. NPR's Laura Sydell reports on what he left behind.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Andy Grove was tough in life and work. By the time he was 20 years old, Grove, who was Jewish, had survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary in hiding. He'd fled on foot to Austria after the Soviet invasion in 1956 and emigrated to New York City. Even though Grove barely spoke English, he completed an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the City University of New York. And then, Grove told NPR in a 2012 interview, he happily fled New York City.


ANDY GROVE: I hated New York. It's ugly. It was uglier then, dirty. People are flowing on the street like rivers.

SYDELL: Grove got his Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Berkeley. And he applied for a job at Fairchild Semiconductor in Palo Alto, the place where the first commercially successful silicon chips were made. Gordon Moore, one of the founders, remembers getting this note from Grove's graduate adviser.

GORDON MOORE: This is a truly outstanding individual. Whoever hires him will be very fortunate.

SYDELL: It turned out to be very fortunate. When Moore and his co-founder Robert Noyce decided to leave Fairchild in 1968 to form Intel, Moore says Grove invited himself along.

MOORE: I told him that I was going to leave. And he says, I want to come too.

SYDELL: The three men would turn Intel into the world's largest chip maker. Noyce saw where tech was going. Moore knew the right people to get it done. And Grove...

LESLIE BERLIN: Andy Grove was the person who made the day-to-day functioning happen, the guy who actually made the products roll off the line.

SYDELL: Leslie Berlin is the project historian at Stanford's Silicon Valley Archives. Berlin says Grove was tough, with a sense of humor. If you sent him a memo, he'd respond with stamps. Some were happy, but...

BERLIN: He had what today we would call an emoji, with the little squinty eyes and the tongue sticking out. You could just picture it going bleh (ph.). He would use that if he didn't like what he saw.

SYDELL: Intel's first business was in memory chips. But by the 1980s, cheap Japanese chips were flooding the market. Intel was in trouble. Grove, then its president, recalled a pivotal moment with then-CEO Gordon Moore.


GROVE: And I asked Gordon, you know, what would happen if somebody took us over? What would the new guy do? To which Gordon said...

MOORE: You're out of the memory business.

GROVE: He would get rid of us (laughter) and get out of the memory business.

SYDELL: Intel began to focus on microprocessors. The company struck a deal with IBM. And it was Intel Inside that fueled the personal computer revolution, which fueled the game industry and the social media revolution and on and on. Grove would eventually become Intel's CEO and go on to make the company one of the world's most profitable.

GROVE: We fostered a style of being that is interactive, collaborative but argumentative, that is really good for a technical company.

SYDELL: A style that would be emulated by new tech managers, including the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, who became a close friend of Grove's. Grove wrote many books on management, including "Only The Paranoid Survive." He is survived by his wife, two children, eight grandchildren and the company he built, Intel. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly identified Grove as the co-founder of Intel. In fact, he was Intel's first employee, who was present at the company's founding and went on to become president and CEO.
Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.