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My morning with Andy Grove

My morning with Andy Grove
by Tom Mahon on 03-31-2016 at 4:00 pm

 I worked briefly at Intel in 1991-2. At the time, the corporate culture was based on the theory of ‘constructive confrontation.’ For most, that meant that in the clash of good ideas, the best one would prevail. For some at Intel, however, constructive confrontation was a blood sport. (I trust things have improved in the past quarter century.)

On my second morning on the job I was walking down a hall and somebody I didn’t know rushed up to me, pointed to a nearby conference room, and said, “You’re supposed to be in that meeting. Get in there right now! Go on, get in there!” (I did as ordered. I was so low on the company’s org chart that, were Intel a ship, I wouldn’t have had assigned lifeboat space.)

So I went in to the meeting, and as soon as I sat down I realized that I was the victim of corporate hazing. It was a meeting of Andy Grove’s executive staff, and just as I was about to get up and get out, Dr. Grove walked in and took the only remaining seat. Right next to me.

Andy Grove was very smart, very observant and very outspoken. But although he looked directly at me as he sat down he didn’t notice, or didn’t seem to mind, there was a stranger in his staff meeting. So maybe he wasn’t all that paranoid, after all.

Andy opened the meeting by announcing that tomorrow during the quarterly financial analyst call, he was going to announce that Intel was about to become the second largest advertiser in the US, after Procter & Gamble. The program was to be called “Intel Inside,” and the budget was going to be (as best I remember) about a quarter of a billion dollars.

An unassuming man in a black suit, white shirt, and black tie across the table advised Andy that the better way to make the announcement would be to say, “We plan to increase revenue by X percent but it will require an investment of $Y.” “No,” said Grove, “I want to lead with the dollar figure. It will get their attention.”

“I really don’t think you should do it that way, Andy.”

“Well, I’m going to.”

“All right. But I’ll remember this when I do your performance review this year.” And with that, Dr Gordon Moore got up and left the room. And that was that.

That’s the day I learned that everybody – everybody! – reports to somebody. Grove reported to Moore, and maybe Moore went home to report to his wife.

Later in the morning meeting, a topic came up resulting in a heated conversation among Grove and his staff. It happened to be an issue I knew something about (tho I forget now what it was).

So I contributed my two cents, and immediately wanted to bite my tongue. What the hell was I doing!

But with that, Grove spun in his chair, looked right and me, slammed his palm on the conference table and said to his staff, “He’s right!’ Followed immediately by, “Whoareyou?”

And that was my introduction to Andy Grove. I wasn’t fired or promoted. But after that, whenever we passed in the halls, he’d nod and say hello. R.I.P.

© 2016, Tom Mahon

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