Inside The Mind Of A Tech Titan


The Life and Times of an American

By Richard S. Tedlow

Portfolio -- 568pp -- $29.95

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Editor's Review

Four Stars
Star Rating

The Good A skillful and comprehensive narrative of Grove's life and work.

The Bad Readers may still long for more personal details and insight.

The Bottom Line An engaging volume that lets you inside the titan's mind.

Andrew S. Grove is a living legend. The former Intel CEO has served as an adviser to presidents, been named Time's 1997 Man of the Year, and been called the godfather of the personal computer. He is treated with reverence wherever he makes a public appearance and remains as outspoken today as he was during the height of his fame in the late 1980s through the 1990s. A prolific writer himself, Grove has been the subject of a good many books and articles.

All of which prompts the following question: Was it a fool's errand for Harvard Business School historian Richard S. Tedlow, author of Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built and other works, to spend years trying to uncover little-known facts and great insights about one of the seemingly best known men in business?

Yes and no. In Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Tedlow has skillfully created one of the most comprehensive narratives of Grove's life and work. It's rich in detail, often humorous, and engaging. More than anything that has come before, this volume lets you inside the titan's mind as he took on more managerial responsibilities. Tedlow also guides us through business history, offering impressions of CEOs both famous (Lou Gerstner, Steve Jobs, Andrew Carnegie) and infamous (Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, and Jeffrey Skilling) and comparing them with Grove, who overall gets better marks. The book's accomplishments are considerable. But in spite of them, many readers will be left longing for more personal details and insight into a man who regularly reinvented himself and his company.

Much of what is in the volume will be familiar to business readers. The first 60 pages describe the life of young Grove, born András István Gróf, and his escape from communist Hungary. The material here is similar to that in the Intel chief's best-selling memoir, Swimming Across. Then, following a brief account of Grove's emigration to the U.S. and his college years, there's a lengthy treatment of his struggles and fear of failure during the early years of Intel, when Grove served as operations director under co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. The uninitiated will find this fascinating. Those familiar with Grove's story may anticipate where the author is leading--toward a conclusion that Grove's success owed much to his ability to make coldly calculated decisions, such as the one to dump Intel's memory-chip business and focus on microprocessors. Later chapters describe the company's growth pains, crises, and struggles to adapt to the rapid technological change that swept the world.

Through it all, Tedlow delivers sharp, colorful anecdotes that provide insight into not just the life of Grove and the history of Intel but also a young Silicon Valley full of promise and ambition. The author gathered material during a year spent sitting in a cubicle at Intel's Santa Clara (Calif.) headquarters, where he interviewed key executives and other employees. Most significant, he has drawn on Grove's own account of events as described in personal journals. Tedlow uses these to chronicle the executive's wit and moments of doubt and satisfaction, along with his Herculean efforts to stay abreast of the company's progress. In an entry from 1971, for example, Grove observes that "Management is the art of absorbing a task in one lump from above; cutting it into smaller lumps and pushing them down one level."

Some of the most intriguing moments occur when Tedlow talks about the early relationship between Microsoft (MSFT ) and Intel, which later morphed into the Wintel alliance. He recounts a dinner meeting at Grove's home with Bill Gates that devolved into a shouting match. Gates had referred to a project as "actionable," by which he meant simply that work could proceed. Grove misunderstood the statement, thinking it was a warning of a lawsuit. "Do you mean to threaten me with legal action at my own dinner table?" he shouted. The brouhaha ultimately died down, but Grove says he was the only one present to finish his salmon.

The book falters as it races to its end. We learn about Grove's health problems, including his battle with Parkinson's disease, but there's little analysis of Grove's legacy. His personal life, save for what already is widely known, remains relatively unexplored as well.

In his introduction, Tedlow quotes three "wealthy and powerful" people who ask whether he can construct a work that shows how Grove thinks, how he made key decisions, and "all the stuff that he won't tell you about." In the end, Tedlow falls short--but two out of three ain't bad.

By Cliff Edwards

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