Blog | Andy Grove: My leader and hero

By Richard Parcia

richard parcia

LYON, France — When Steve Jobs passed away, I waited for a couple of weeks to write something about him as a tribute of some sorts. I knew there would be a lot of people who would do the same. Therefore, with conceit, I waited for others do their thing first so I could stand out. It’s a foolish and self-absorbed notion, of course.

So, I gave Steve the paean he deserved. After all, every young conqueror wannabe who is out to change the world has him as an inspiration. With the passing of Andy Grove, I also let the weeks passed but for a different reason. I had so many words in my head that the process of getting them all out was paralyzed.

I was mourning a personal hero.

Everybody had Steve Jobs as their hero but the same people who admired him do not know that Steve looked up to Andy. Legend has it that Steve called Andy to seek his opinion on whether it was a good thing for him to go back to Apple. Andy just told Steve to stop the intellectual masturbation, make a decision, stand by it, and stop pestering him about the topic.

The words sound like an exaggeration because they are my exaggerated version. However, those who worked for Intel know that the tale’s apocryphal proceeding that I concocted is highly plausible. Andy Grove is not for the faint-hearted. Intel, regardless of its current troubles, is not for sissies. Oracle’s Larry Ellison said, on record, that Andy was the only person he would happily work for.

The Intel that I knew has a culture that is based on the fanatical belief in constructive confrontation; the fundamental belief that to solve issues, technical and non-technical, everyone involved should know and acknowledge the hard truths even if it brings pain (with a lot of yelling, sometimes), which is often the case, and to endure some more pain (more yelling) as everyone proceeds to resolve the problems.

It’s a hard-nosed bare-knuckled way to manage that is bereft of personal insults (you will be shown the door if you attack the person instead of the issue) but filled with laser-pointed attacks on the issue that can make the most intelligent person in the room squirm like the class dunce.

If one was trained to equate self-importance with rank, then Intel is not the company for him or her. On the “floor”, the janitor, can tell the CEO of the company that the latter’s idea or action is idiotic, with all brutality, and in front of other employees.

Exaggeration? Not at all. Almost every employee in my stint there knows the story of how a newbie kicked out the company’s top five executives, including CEO Craig Barrett, from a conference room because their meeting overextended, therefore they were not adhering to Intel’s effective meetings approach and the company’s value of discipline.

We didn’t have reserved parking spaces. Late? You’ll be in the worst parking spot, if you can even find one. Andy, himself, had to wait for a spot to open up. We all lined up in the same cafeteria. No executive lounges. No leaders-only offices.

Andy’s cube was no bigger than mine. No executives-only refrigerators that are prominent in some BPO/ITO companies that I know. No fancy suits. You can wear shorts if you can withstand 18 degree Celsius room temperature!

I witnessed all of these things as a young man who was in his first foray into the corporate world. It was my indoctrination that I often tell my staff — former and current — that the key to my psyche is to know my Intel past.

So, imagine my consternation when I worked for another company and was told in a party that I shouldn’t be inside a tent because it was reserved for those whose grade levels are higher than mine. When I was being whisked away, literally, I thought of Andy. He wouldn’t have allowed it. No Intel manager or staff would have allowed it. Hell, that VIP tent, wouldn’t have existed at all!

As a professor in a nearby university graduate school, I often tell my students that corporate culture is not dictated by HR or the mass of employees working for that company. Do not mistake norm for culture. Culture is always top to bottom. It’s the leaders who start it. The cultural snippets I relate were definitely influenced by Andy Grove. He is the best specimen for what a genuine leader is: authentic, effective, ethical, and transformational.

So, as I think of my home in Manila, besieged with airports having blackouts, and metro trains conking out at noon, or bank executives getting caught red-handed for being unethical or even criminal, or that flight that can’t seem to understand what on-time is, or that simple call to a local telco to inquire about a service that was not there, I remember Intel. Not so much as a comparison but as a thought that a better way can be found if they only knew how Andy would have done it and that is get to the bottom of the problem and just fix the damn thing.

The Irish, after they bury their dead, would go to a pub to give a send off ribbing to the one who just departed. It’s their way to remember with fondness. When Andy retired some years ago, he was given the same ribbing by everybody and it was caught on video. Ironically, the people on video were the same ones who were all scared shitless by his confrontation approach. Now that he is really gone, I cannot do it. I don’t think any ex-Intel can.

Instead, we remember Andy with reverence and fondness. We mourn the best leader of Silicon Valley ever had and arguably, even beyond it.

Our leader is dead. Long live our leader. Long live my personal hero.

Richard L. Parcia, PhD, is currently the Head for Global IT Operations Center for LafargeHolcim based out of France. He previously worked for United Health Group and Intel. Concurrently, he teaches at the graduate school of the University of Santo Tomas

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