Obituaries

Andy Grove, 79, former Intel chief executive

Intel Corp. founder Andy Grove in 2004.
Associated Press/File
Intel Corp. founder Andy Grove in 2004.

NEW YORK — Andrew S. Grove, the longtime chief executive and chairman of Intel Corp. who was one of the most acclaimed and influential personalities of the computer and Internet era, died Monday at his home in Los Altos, Calif. He was 79.

The cause of his death has not yet been determined, said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for the family.

At Intel, Mr. Grove helped midwife the semiconductor revolution — the use of increasingly sophisticated chips to power computers — that proved to be as momentous for economic and social development as hydrocarbon fuels, electricity, and telephones were in earlier eras. Intel’s microprocessors were also essential for digital cameras, consumer electronic products, household appliances, toys, manufacturing equipment, and a wide assortment of devices that depended on computerized functions.

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In addition to presiding over the development of Intel’s memory chips and microprocessors in laboratory research, Mr. Grove gained a reputation as a ruthlessly effective manager who spurred associates and cowed rivals in a cutthroat, high-tech business world where companies rose and fell at startling speed. Mr. Grove’s famous slogan, “Only the Paranoid Survive,” became the title of his 1996 bestseller describing his management philosophy.

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Adding to Mr. Grove’s appeal was his rags-to-riches immigrant story. A survivor of the Nazi Holocaust and the 1956 Soviet invasion of his native Hungary, he arrived in the United States as a penniless youth who spoke little English and suffered from severe hearing loss. Within decades, Mr. Grove was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And in 1997, he was chosen “Man of the Year” by Time magazine as “the person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and the innovative potential of microchips.”

Andy Grove in some ways was considered “the father” of Silicon Valley, said David Yoffie, a professor of the Harvard Business School and longtime Intel board member. Mr. Grove’s influence, Yoffie said, came largely from his ideas about organizational practices and design — Intel was the birthplace of nonhierarchical, open settings and low-partitioned cubicles rather than walled-in offices.

Mr. Grove’s work ethic, his personal drive, and his notion of the value of “creative confrontation” became the managerial model for generations of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and executives like Apple’s cofounder Steve Jobs, who regularly sought Mr. Grove’s counsel, Yoffie said.

Mr. Grove, a tightly coiled, slim man of medium height, was by no means infallible. Several times during his long involvement with Intel, the Silicon Valley giant courted disaster. The causes ranged from unexpectedly tough competition to faulty Intel products to poor management decisions.

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But Intel rebounded stronger from each episode, thanks largely to Mr. Grove’s ability to recognize the gravity of a crisis and set a new course.

“There are waves and then there’s a tsunami,” he wrote in “Only the Paranoid Survive.” “When a change in how some element of one’s business is conducted becomes an order of magnitude larger than what that business is accustomed to, then all bets are off.”

Mr. Grove’s management ideas helped make Intel, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., one of the most profitable companies in the world, with an average annual return of more than 40 percent for its shareholders from the late 1980s to the turn of the century.

Andrew S. Grove was born András Gróf on Sept. 2, 1936, into a Jewish household in Budapest. His father owned a small dairy business, and his mother helped keep the books. As a child, Mr. Grove was afflicted with scarlet fever and an ear infection that left him almost deaf. His father was rounded up by German troops occupying Hungary during World War II and sent to a labor camp, where he survived typhoid and pneumonia.

Meanwhile, young Andrew and his mother were hidden by a Christian family until the war’s end. In a 1997 Time magazine interview, Mr. Grove recalled that at 8 years old he was told by his mother to assume a Christian alias.

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Liberation from the Nazis was followed by communist rule in Hungary, and then by the Hungarian uprising of 1956 that was put down by Russian troops. Mr. Grove, who was studying chemistry, decided to flee the country after a number of his fellow students were arrested. He and a friend crossed the border into Austria after a night spent evading Soviet troops.

Several weeks later, he boarded a refugee ship to New York, and from there was taken to a former POW camp in New Jersey until his immigration papers were in order.

“We thought that all the propaganda was true, that America was just another drab, totalitarian state,” Mr. Grove said in a 1995 interview with Fortune magazine, in which he recalled his first impressions of the United States.

Mr. Grove, who Americanized his name within weeks, moved in with an aunt and uncle living in a small Brooklyn apartment. He enrolled as a chemical engineering student at the City College of New York and graduated at the top of his class. Mr. Grove got through lectures by learning to lip read and then deciphering his notes at home or at the library.

“I had to go over each day’s work again at night with a dictionary at my side,” he told The New York Times in a 1960 article that focused on that year’s outstanding CCNY graduates.

In 1958, he married Eva, another Hungarian refugee, whom he met the previous summer at a New Hampshire resort where both worked as waiters. They moved to California, where Mr. Grove earned a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of California Berkeley. They had two daughters — whose names were never revealed by the media because of Mr. Grove’s insistence on protecting their privacy.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Grove joined Fairchild Semiconductor, a fledgling computer science company. He led a research team that sought to embed transistors on wafers of silicon, a low-heat conducting element commonly found in sand. Silicon chips — each with first hundreds, then thousands, and then millions of transistors — vastly lowered the cost and extended the scope of computers, which had once depended on bulky vacuum tubes that easily overheated and later arrays of individual transistors. Mr. Grove’s team also succeeded in reducing the instability of transistors by removing sodium impurities from silicon chips.

The widespread use of silicon by upstart computer hardware and software companies near San Francisco gave Silicon Valley its name. In 1968, Mr. Grove joined Intel, a new semiconductor manufacturer that emerged as a Silicon Valley leader. Intel was founded by two former colleagues at Fairchild, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, to supply memory chips for mainframe computers. Mr. Grove was put in charge of factory production.

Mr. Grove served as CEO of Intel until 1998 and then served as chairman of the board until 2005.