Andy Grove, who escaped the ruins of postwar Europe to become one of the architects of Silicon Valley’s growth into the world’s center of technology creation, died Monday. He was 79.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove,” Intel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich said in a statement on the company’s website. “Andy made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.”
The Hungarian-born refugee was one of the founders of Santa Clara, California-based Intel, playing a key role in building the company from a startup in the 1960s to the world’s largest semiconductor maker, a title it still holds. Grove, who literally wrote the book on how to foresee and overcome a corporate crisis with “Only the Paranoid Survive,” also broke new ground by making the component maker a household name central to the worldwide adoption of the personal computer.
He “was one of the giants of the technology world,” Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said in a Twitter post. “He loved our country and epitomized America at its best.”
Grove was born as Andras Grof on Sept. 2, 1936, in Budapest to a middle class Jewish family. In “Swimming Across,” the autobiography of his life prior to moving to the West Coast, he described a fairly idyllic upbringing that was soon thrown into turmoil.
Before the age of 10, Andris, as his family called him, saw his father conscripted into the Hungarian army and deployed to the Russian front. Following the Nazi invasion of 1944, he hid with Christian families under a false name, narrowly escaping a sweep of the countryside that eradicated Hungary’s Jewish population outside of its capital.
While he survived the fight for Budapest between Russian and German forces, his family had to endure further brutality at the hands of the occupying Russians. The remainder of his childhood was spent amid the tightening grip of Hungary’s single-party communist government.
Back from a labor camp, his father was ousted from his job for alleged bourgeois tendencies and the family was designated a “class enemy.” Despite his strong grades, Grove was only able to get into university by begging favors.
By 1956, Hungary was caught in the wave of anti-Soviet sentiment sweeping across Eastern Europe and Grove’s family once again found itself taking shelter. Heeding the word of an aunt who had survived Auschwitz, he joined the flood of refugees walking across the border into Austria and a life in the West.
He never returned to his homeland.
Arriving in the U.S. with less than $20 in his pocket, Grove was taken in by relatives in New York. He studied chemical engineering at City College and graduated at the top of his class, teaching himself English along the way.
He moved to the West Coast to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1963. After graduating, he joined Fairchild Semiconductor, home to a future group of semiconductor industry leaders who would give Silicon Valley its name.
In 1968, he followed Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce out the door as Intel’s first hire.
“When I came to Intel, I was scared to death,” Grove said on the company’s 25th anniversary. “I left a very secure job where I knew what I was doing and started running R&D for a brand new venture in untried territory. It was terrifying.”
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For the founders of Intel, Grove was the perfect fit. Moore and Noyce, both inventors in their own right, were opposite personalities: one studious and low-key, the other a born salesman. In the middle was Grove, a writer of scientific textbooks who brought a fear of failure to the laid-back culture of Silicon Valley in the early 1970s. As a detail-obsessed taskmaster, he forced Intel workers, including Moore, to sign in if they arrived at work after 8 a.m.
Carl Everett Jr., who ran the microprocessor division during his 18 years at Intel before leaving for Dell Inc., recalled the early efforts to develop PC chips.
“It was like a construction project that was managed by a group of engineers that were being trained on tools and equipment that were just invented,” he said in a March 2005 interview. “Then Andy came along.”
Grove served as president of Intel from 1979 to 1997 and CEO from 1987 to 1998. He was chairman from May 1997 through May 2005. He is survived by his wife, Eva, with whom he had two daughters and eight grandchildren.