Remembering Andy Grove

When Intel was well on the rise and Andy Grove was the commodore of the fleet so dominant in the seas of the micro-processor sector, I was a young sales guy trying to win business from the likes of Intel and all their neighbors in Silicon Valley.

At the time I remember reading a lot about various leaders of the companies and industries in the valley.  I looked for ways to hone my sales strategy and pitch to prospective companies’ own business objectives.

I found this article about Andy Grove somewhere along the way and liked it so much, I saved it.  In hearing about his passing today, I post this piece in remembrance of a great thinker and leader in American business.

I attended an Intel annual meeting several years back, after Grove had stepped down as CEO.  He was in the audience though, and I remember him looking relaxed, in a black leather jacket, crew-neck and khaki’s.  He chuckled and waved when the then CEO made reference to Grove sitting in the audience.

So here’s to you, Andy Grove.  As the hashtag goes around twitter currently #RIPAndyGrove ~

“A Cubicle Suits Him Just Fine” [original article written by “unknown author” c.1996]

As Intel has grown, Grove’s office has shrunk. It used to be that an executive’s climb up the corporate ladder was accompanied by a series of moves to ever-larger (and plusher) offices — culminating in the final move into a mahogany-paneled corner office from which the CEO ruled over his business empire.

But often, shielded by a phalanx of administrative assistants, the CEO had only a foggy idea of what was really going on at lower levels of the organization. That’s
definitely not the case with Andy Grove.

Not only does he take a vital interest in what’s happening throughout Intel’s far-flung realm, but he disdains the mahogany-row syndrome.

His office is remarkably compact. In fact, it’s not an “office” at all, but a partitioned-off cubicle crammed in among similar-sized cubicles on the fifth floor of the Robert N. Noyce building, which serves as Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara.

Pam Pollace, who works closely with Grove as vice president-worldwide press relations, occupies an adjacent cubicle. Pointing out that increased staff hiring has

forced the company to squeeze more cubicles into a finite space, Pollace finds it humorously ironic that, as the size of Intel’s manufacturing facilities and corporate revenues have increased dramatically, Grove’s office has grown smaller and smaller because of the “compression” effect. (He does, however, have a window
with a nice view — his only evident “status symbol.”)

Asked whether the tiny quarters are adequate for his needs as CEO, Grove replies, “Absolutely. . . . I need a conference room for private meetings, but most of the
time I can read, work at my computer, or have phone conversations very nicely in my office — even if Pam often does overhear me.”

Breaking into a chuckle, he adds, “Earlier today, I was having a meeting in my office and everyone was talking about [Pam’s] role — and she pipes up on the other side of the partition and answers the question we were discussing. I have to be cognizant of things like that, but I’ve been living in cubicles since 1978 — and it hasn’t hurt a whole lot.”

Significantly, the open-office environment symbolizes one of Intel’s great strengths — a culture that encourages open and honest communication.

Senior Vice President Ron Whittier observes that Grove fosters open communication by encouraging staffers and others to say what’s on their minds. “People here
aren’t afraid to speak up and debate with Andy,” he notes. As a result, Grove is able to keep in touch with what is really happening throughout the 62,000-employee
company, which has a dozen wafer-fabrication facilities and other manufacturing operations around the globe.

E-mail, which he finds to be much more efficient than the telephone, also keeps him in touch. He estimates that he receives 250 to 300 e-mail messages a week. “As a
practical matter,” he says, “my phone is not nearly as important as it used to be.”

Moreover, e-mail has eased the burden of correspondence. “Back about 20 years ago,” Grove says, “if I went on a week’s vacation, when I came back, it took me about 10 hours to catch up with the regular mail. Now, the paperwork is almost nothing. “When I think about how I used to use correspondence, I would use the margins of memos — and scribble a few lines and send them back. And that is what e-mail does.

When someone writes to you, you respond back with a few lines or a paragraph. It goes back and forth, but it is very brief. . . . And a big difference is [the time element].  If you stick a letter in the mail, it takes a day or two to get to Arizona or wherever. There is no immediacy. But an e-mail transaction usually takes place within hours.”

E-mail, a byproduct of the information revolution that Intel helped to foster, has also reconfigured intra-company communications. “I no longer get internal [paper]
mail or internal phone calls,” Grove says. “If you want to reach somebody, you very quickly discover that the most effective way of doing that is through e-mail.

“If somebody phones while you’re out of the office — and you try to return the call — you ping-pong back and forth so many times that you forget why you called in the first place.”

That comment is proof that Andy Grove understands the real value that Intel helps to deliver to the business world. In fact, if he didn’t use e-mail, it would be a bit like the chairman of General Motors driving to work in a Toyota.

But, obviously, the culture at Intel is radically different from that at GM. And it is reflected in a variety of metrics — including the high-tech firm’s impressive stock-market performance in recent years. And, yes, even the dimensions of the CEO’s office.

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On Maneuvers

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Often it’s important to circle back to things you’ve walked away from to have another look.  You get fresh, valuable insights from this practice.  Here’s the latest example I’ve come across.

I was 75% along the way to joining the US Navy out of high school.  I was going to use an NROTC scholarship to pay for college.  I wanted to be a Marine.

Ultimately I made the decision not to proceed along the military path.  Over the many years since that time, I’ve come across lessons time and again that stem from military practices and history.  I’ve taken to heart a lot of those lessons.

The concept of “maneuver warfare” came up most recently that has me thinking about the parallels to how we approach our lives, getting things done, being busy, juggling personal affairs, work, and family.  Some basic principles stand out.  Applied regularly (daily) you’ll find these five tips quite helpful.  At least I have.

[Note:  These are my paraphrases, not necessarily direct quotes.]

  1. Be ready for the unexpected.
  2. Be able to adapt your plan while keeping focused on the same goal(s).
  3. Don’t just give orders.  Empower your squad.
  4. Take calculated risks with the knowledge you and your team can recover if necessary.
  5. Maintain a Positive Attitude and Esprit De Corp.

I boiled these five “hacks” down from  Jocko Willink’s fast-growing, fast-moving, often insightful podcast.  He focused on H. John Poole  during one early podcast, a veteran of Vietnam who studied, wrote, and trained thousands of soldiers on small unit tactics.

Funny where you can find lessons if you’re open.  In the daily maneuvers through your life, remembering that might be the most important thing of all.

Even Flow

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This phrase came to mind when I was sitting in the daily morning meeting at work.

“Even Flow.”

I’m like most people, taught to create to-do lists early in my school career as a way to manage my time and get my work done.  I think I learned about the practice in the my Study Skills class in 4th Grade.

When I got into the professional world someone gave me a little volume about time management.  One of the central themes and related tools was creating a “master task list”,  where everything went you had to do.  I started using composition books about ten years ago to maintain my master task list, which I still maintain and use regularly.  The goal is the same:  Create and Maintain an even flow in my work efforts, to get things done.

Even with the master list though, I find myself making a little scribble list on my notes paper when I’m sitting in meetings, to further hone my focus for any given day.  I review the master list, and then make a scratchpad list to attack for the day.  It’s a good exercise, at least for me.  Sort of like stretching before a run.

The master list is like the workout schedule/plan, the scratchpad list is the stretch before I hit the streets.  It gives me an even flow of how I want the work efforts to go, provides the proper mindset and assures readiness for the day ahead. And then what?  ONWARD into the day with focus and good attitude ~

What’s the bonus in all this?  When the title  of this post came to mind, so did this classic 90’s grunge song by the same name  ~ Enjoy.

Avoid the Rat Hole

I was talking to my brother yesterday.  Through the course of the conversation he said something like, “…not to go down the rat hole on this, but…”.  I’d never heard of the term.

Then last night the neighbors were over for dinner, and I asked K (who works in the tech sector) if she’d heard the term, “rat hole.”

She replied quite assumptively, “Yea, we use it all the time.  Like in meetings.  We even have a separate, rat hole white board, to capture those ideas during the discussion, but not allow the agenda to get high-jacked.”   Ah yes, the RAT HOLE.

This situation got me thinking.  There’s terminology, jargon, vernacular, whatever you want to call it, that’s likely to develop in any business, discipline, group, team, etc.  That’s probably a good thing most of the time.  It gives people with a common purpose a common language with which to move their goals forward.

Just as important as the language though — maybe more so, actually — are the processes and commitment to see things through to the goals that are set.

So to go back to my neighbor’s example, having a white board up during a meeting to note ideas that come up during discussion that aren’t particularly relevant to the agenda at hand is really smart.  It allows the ideas that come up to be captured for future review, but also keeps people moving forward towards their goals.

Figure 0ut ways to hack your behaviors to be more productive, to move toward the objectives you’ve set. You’ll be more successful.  Even more important, you’ll be happier. And you’ll stay out of the rat hole.