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Biography details decision that saved Intel

Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American
by Richard S. Tedlow
Portfolio, 576 pages, $29.95.

In mid-1985, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore played a game of "let's pretend" and pulled Intel out of a perilous predicament.

Harvard Business School professor Richard S. Tedlow, in his new book "Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American," tells how Japanese semiconductor makers at that time were eating Intel's lunch. Many other companies had succumbed already to the onslaught from the Pacific Basin.

Grove, who had been president of the company for eight years, had liked having the Japanese involved in the industry in the late 1970s, says Tedlow, because they helped Intel keep up with demand.

"Seemingly overnight, however, Japanese competitors appeared to have transformed themselves from docile puppies to ferocious pit bulls," Tedlow writes.

Like everyone else at Intel, Grove was in denial at first. They refused to accept what the data told them, Tedlow says.

Money, says Tedlow, "kept flying out the door," while the deep thinkers at Intel explored options to meet the challenge. Tedlow quotes Grove:

"We had lost our bearings. We were wandering in the valley of death."

Then came that "let's pretend" moment when Grove asked Moore: "If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?"

Moore's immediate response was: "He would get us out of memories."

It took months and a lot of arm-twisting and diplomacy to get all the company's executives on board with that decision, says Tedlow, but when they came around, Intel exited the race to the bottom in semiconductors and focused upon its profitable microprocessor business.

That change of course is one of the many instances Tedlow underscores in his biography of Grove that illustrate his extraordinary abilities as a manager and leader. Those skills led to his becoming president and chief executive of the company in 1987 and taking on the responsibilities of chairman of the board and chief executive in 1997.

The story of the Jewish Hungarian immigrant Andras Istvan Grof, who Americanized his name to Andy Grove, is inextricably intertwined with the evolution of Intel, the achievements of the company's co founders Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce, the rise of the Silicon Valley, the revolutionary and rapid changes in telecommunications, and the globalization of the world economy.

On the more personal level there is the story of Grove's childhood and adolescence in Hungary, his family's ordeal of survival during the Nazi occupation of Hungary and Grove's escape from Hungary when it appeared that he would be arrested for participating in demonstrations against the Soviet occupation of the country.

Tedlow's subtitle, "The Life and Times of an American," appears to be designed to convey messages about both Grove and America. He points out that Grove never returned to Hungary and is not likely to do so. He at one point suggests that, although Grove was not born in America, he is so American in his thinking and his approach to academic and business endeavors that he should have been born here.

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