This Day in Jewish History / The Hungarian Immigrant Behind Intel Is Born

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Intel CEOs. From left: Gordon Moore, Craig Barrett, Andy Grove and Paul Otellini.Credit: Intel Free Press

Andy Grove, the Hungarian-born chemical engineer who helped turn chip maker Intel into one of the world’s most profitable and respected companies was born on September 2, 1936 in Budapest.

Andras Istvan Grof, as he was called at birth, was the son of Maria, a bookkeeper, and George, who owned a dairy. Andris, as he was known, suffered traumas in childhood and as a young adult. When he was four he had scarlet fever, which nearly killed him and left him with permanent hearing loss. During the German occupation of Hungary in 1944, he and his mother were taken in by non-Jewish friends, who supplied them with false identities, while his father was imprisoned as a forced laborer. The three survived and were reunited after the war. Finally, there was the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which brought Russian tanks into Budapest.

Andris was one of 200,000 Hungarians to flee for the West. In 1956 he escaped across the border into Austria, and in 1957 he went to New York, where he was taken in by an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn.

Changing his name to Andrew Stephen Grove, the young refugee resumed the chemical engineering studies he had begun in Hungary; he graduated at the top of his class from the City College of New York in 1960. Three years later he was awarded a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1957, while working as a waiter for the summer at a New York hotel, he met a fellow Hungarian refugee, Eva Kasten; the two married the following year. They have two daughters.

Pass the chips

It was at Fairchild Semiconductor, where Grove worked from 1963 to 1968 — he was assistant director of development when he left — that he met Robert Noyce and Gordon E. Moore. When they founded Intel, in 1968, he was their first hire. Grove stayed at Intel for 36 years, helping it to become one of the biggest corporations in the world and the biggest manufacturer of microprocessors. Grove served Intel as president, chairman and CEO.

At the time of his retirement, in 2004, the firm’s market capitalization was $197 billion.

It was Grove, as Intel’s head of engineering in 1976, who made the strategic decision to move from memory chips to microprocessors, and it was he who negotiated with IBM to have that company’s personal computers, introduced in the 1980s, operate on Intel processors exclusively.

Grove’s gruff and competitive management style (his motto was “only the paranoid survive,” which also served as the title of a book he wrote on management) were well-known, together with his modest lifestyle: he worked in a small cubicle no larger than that of other Intel office workers. He was also known for his policy of “constructive confrontation,” by which anyone in the company, including him, could be challenged by colleagues about their ideas.

In 1995, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Grove became deeply involved in studying the treatment of the disease, from which he recovered. That approach continued five years later, after he learned he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder. In both cases, he was very public about what he learned (he also opened up about his childhood in Hungary, in a 2001 memoir, “Swimming Across”). Hehas taken a leadership role in funding research into Parkinson’s and in pushing for structural changes in the way medical research is done in general.

Speaking before a Wired magazine conference on health care, in December 2012, for example, Grove’s difficulty with movement and speech is pronounced, but his comments are as sharp and provocative as ever.

Frustrated with the slow rate of progress in Parkinson’s research as well as diagnosis and treatment of the disease, Grove became a scientific advisor to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and pledged a large part of his estate to its work. He also gave a $26 million gift to the City College of New York, in 2006, which renamed its engineering school in his honor.

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