We are delighted to announce that this week we have become an IEEE Education Partner. As you probably know, the IEEE is the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology and has over 360,000 members throughout the world.
We have also produced a number of complimentary books over the past few months, including; Greatest Engineering Disasters, Crazy Inventors, Engineering Careers for 2009, Crazy Inventions, Impossible Engineering Jobs, Job Interviews and Technical Writing. See the bottom of this newsletter for details.
Being a bit of a cynic, I don’t have many engineering heroes. The inspirational engineer, Andy Grove (former chief of Intel, the microchip maker), however, must surely be one of them. He wrote a well known book entitled; “Only the paranoid survive”, reflecting on the difficulties in surviving and growing in business.
Andy Grove was a poverty stricken refugee from Hungary. He attended New York’s City College and then gained his doctorate in engineering from the University of California, at Berkeley. A book he wrote at the time - on semiconductors - is still a standard text. He then joined Fairchild Semiconductor, where he became the protégé of Robert Noyce (co-inventor of the integrated circuit) and Gordon Moore (the proponent of the law which states that the amount of computing power available at a given price doubles every 18 months). He joined them after they founded Intel in 1968. He became CEO in 1987 and finished off as chairman in 2004. During Andy’s reign, Intel was considered, for a time, the most valuable company in the world.
Why should we bother about Andy Grove? Well; I believe no matter whether you are a manager, engineer, technician or tradesperson, he has some important lessons for our careers and businesses. Although he is an outstanding engineer, he will be remembered as a daring businessman who applied engineering to business with incredible success.
Andy felt that every firm would be confronted, at least once, with the perfect storm -where internal and external forces conspire to make the existing business unviable. In a word; if something isn’t done quickly with your business, you are “busted”. This is probably true of our careers as well as our businesses. In Intel’s case, their core business was in manufacturing memory chips. The prices, however, had fallen to such an extent (with Japanese competitors driving them down) that it was uneconomic to produce them. The entire company (and indeed the two key founders) couldn’t break from the memory chip business. But Andy Grove decided to ‘bet the company’ on microprocessors and change what they were doing. This not only saved the company, but transformed the industry, driving (amongst other things) the low cost ubiquitous PC.
His second critical decision was to sell microprocessors directly to consumers rather than through the computer makers, as Intel had been doing. You may vaguely recall the ‘Intel Inside’ campaign. This drove the computer makers into an unhappy frenzy, but the Pentium chip ended up being a best seller. Some of you may also recall the minor flaw in the Pentium for certain mathematical calculations. Downplaying the problem was a major PR disaster for Intel; costing them a half billion dollars. Andy Grove reckoned, though, that this episode actually ended up supporting Intel’s transformation. He believed it resulted in the dramatically improved quality of manufacturing and acted as ballast against a similar occurrence. But overall, when Intel turned from a component maker into a consumer brand, it was a stroke of genius.
Andy felt that his early experiences as an undergraduate student at City College shaped his ideas in life and business. Hard work was rewarded and students and professors were equally treated. Questioning everything was encouraged. He felt, however, that his first job at Fairchild was a disaster. He felt that the company’s corporate culture was dysfunctional, elitist, backstabbing and lax. Senior executives strolled into the office late; whereas blue collar workers were fired for the slightest transgression. At Intel, he created a highly disciplined environment which attracted the best and rewarded results - with no double standards.
(As an aside and somewhat controversially, he feels that today, companies should use the patents they are granted rather than sitting on them.)
So what are some of the lessons from Andy Grove?
* Ensure that you watch for the ‘point of inflection’ in your business and career. This is the time to change what you do – particularly if it is proving uneconomic. Research carefully what the market is doing and then ‘jump ship’ as far as your current product and service is concerned. This is certainly what we have done in moving holus bolus into online web conferencing and production of e-courses - supplementing our old traditional methods of course presentation.
* Hard work, discipline and rewarding results in business (and indeed life) still generate enormous satisfaction. (Although one would question this with the travails of Wall St over the past few years).
* Encouraging a culture of questioning everything and treating everyone fairly is still a key to success for business
* A high degree of intensive knowledge and expertise is so absolutely vital in building a great business.
* Never accept the status quo, but concentrate on being a maverick in industry doing things differently and always questioning what you are doing.
* When things go wrong, it is best to ‘come clean’ soonest and use this as an opportunity to improve your processes and business
In this massively information rich and confused world, surely William S. Burroughs comment is valid: “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.”
Thanks to the Economist and Dr Andy Grove’s book: “Only the Paranoid survive” for reference sources.
Yours in engineering learning