Driven to succeed

 

Intel is one of the staggering success stories in the world of information technology. It has, over 30 years, grown to become the dominant player in the global microchip market and has significant employment interest in this country. Inside Intel - how Andy Grove built the world's most successful chip company by Tim Jackson (Harper Collins, £19.99) is an exhaustive account of how Intel did it, growing from a start-up with finance arranged on a vague one-page prospectus in an afternoon in 1968 to become the king of the jungle by 1997.

However, Inside Intel, is more than a chronological romp through the company's highs and lows, it is really an account of how Andy Grove, a Hungarian immigrant, built the company in his image and ruthlessly crushed internal opposition to his vision of the corporation and externally marginalised significant competitors.

The book opens with an account of how Intel tackled the flawed microchip crisis of 1994. Initially, when hitches were reported, the company ignored them and trumpeted the mantra that the Pentium was flawless, relying on its size to bully the market into accepting its version of events. However, customers, tired of Intel's arrogance, rebelled and the company was staring a major disaster in the face.

Andy Grove, the man who's personality determined Intel's stance of toughing it out, was forced to eat crow.

The incident is symptomatic of how Intel has always conducted business. It can take tough decisions when it wants to and has no problem disposing of assets, both human and commercial, when it needs to. Andy Grove's maxim was "only the paranoid survive" and he, and his company, lived it to the full.

Founded in 1968, the year of student revolt, Intel, unlike many of peers, was not the product of long-haired visionaries sweating in crude workshops, but the product of industry insiders Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, who bored with their jobs decided to strike out on their own, and with the aid of venture capitalist Art Rock rounded up the necessary cash to turn their idea into reality. They liked to boast afterwards that they were the real revolutionaries because what they did actually changed the world.

But their most inspired choice was to hire Andy Grove to be the hands-on manager. Both men realised that they didn't have the necessary characteristic to hire and fire without a thought or the obsessive attention to detail that a start-up needs. Andy Grove did and he drove the company forward at breakneck speed, demanding huge efforts and massive hours from his workers and putting them in himself.

Grove embarked on a policy of crushing the opposition, involving hundreds of lawyers vigorously pursuing rivals through the courts. The company lost as many cases as it won, but succeeded in establishing itself at pole position. Another successful policy was paying the advertising costs of clients who put the Intel Inside phrase on their products, insuring massive brand awareness. Intel became synonymous with the microchip, like McDonalds to hamburgers, a favourite analogy of the corporation's management.

Jackson writes well and the book is neatly constructed with an excellent index and chapter notes.

His lionising of the corporate warriors is a little over-done but he does not slip into hagiography as do many who write about successful businessmen. A valuable insight into an extremely powerful company and one which workers and IDA managers could do well to include in their Christmas stockings.