What Andy Grove Taught Me


Since Monday, when I learned that Andrew Grove had passed away, two lessons that Andy had role-modeled have been rolling over in my head.

The first lesson:  Pursue life with a tenacious focus and never stop challenging assumptions

The stories of Andy challenging assumptions begins with the reinvention of Intel, a company he co-founded and took from being the big gorilla in memory chips into being the big gorilla of microprocessors – challenging assumptions like he was starting from scratch and encouraging cannibalization within the company he’d built.  I’ve never seen or heard of another founder who reinvented a giant enterprise like Andy Grove did.  He challenged assumptions when he found out he had cancer and ignored what doctors told him, instead studying on his own and choosing the unproven treatment that would in fact prove to prolong his life.

I had the good fortune of watching him in action in 2010 in a meeting at the Grove foundation.  Scott Johnson, founder of the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF) – which I was advising – was sharing with Andy how they were connecting research across academic institutions and accelerating the launching of drugs, with a focus on results.  We anticipated that Andy would want to learn how he could take the accelerated launching approach to specific areas related to Parkinson’s disease.  In fact, much of the meeting was about the particular challenges The Grove Foundation was dealing with regarding Parkinson’s:

  1. Had MRF created standards industry wide?
    Andy discussed that there were no common measurements or standards related to Parkinson’s and its progression.   He showed us a peg-board-like unit that Intel had built and used for developing standard measurements – a tool that he was encouraging doctors everywhere to use.   He wanted to learn of any standard measurement scheme in place so that those of us involved with MRF could learn collectively.   We spent about an hour on this issue and the challenges the MRF had faced.   Andy Grove was building tools  that would let a problem be understood and solved collectively around the world.
  2. Had MRF interfaced with the National Health Service — NHS – or international health organizations, e.g., WHO, NHS, other country-specific organizations, and what lessons could they share?
    Andy described the piecemeal nature he felt and saw in how the issues associated with Parkinson’s disease were being addressed. He wanted to learn from everyone in the room how these issues had been addressed, and about who from where was open to integrated solutions, etc.

We left that meeting knowing that Andy Grove was not interested in MRF’s accelerated approach for a drug release. Rather, he was breaking apart everything needed to address Parkinson’s disease and bring all the resources together to find solutions – and we had just been part of his amazing and eye-opening problem-solving approach.   There was no assumption that Andy wouldn’t challenge, and he was totally focused and persistent.  Or as he often said, “Only the Paranoid survive.”

I left that meeting with a treasure – an acquaintanceship with Andy Grove. Over the next six months, he was so engaged and energized about the MRF, its challenges, and what he could learn and take back to Parkinson’s disesase that he thought nothing of calling me at any point with an idea or a question – even once at 4:00 in the morning.

The second lesson: Mentoring is part of who I am.

Intel was built into the company and culture Andy Grove built – starting with when he bought cubicles from the discount place for the first employees of the company that would become to the center of the high-tech world.  I saw the strength of the culture Andy had built when I was working with a supplier who had hired a VP from Intel, who six months later quit his new job, saying, “I didn’t appreciate the strength of support and pride I had every day when I went home from Intel.  I am returning there for a 25 percent cut in salary.   It is the place I want to be.”

When I was a new associate at McKinsey, I received a letter from Andy Grove. The president and chairman of Intel had taken time out of his busy day to tell me that the editorial I had published in the Wall Street Journal had taken courage to write and was good.  He didn’t know me then, and yet he mentored me.

I would go so far as to say that part of why Silicon Valley is so special is because Andy Grove built it to be a place of mentorship.

When I see an article of his I drop everything else and read it on the spot Here is an article by Andy Grove that I would encourage everyone to read – both as a great illustration of the value of challenging our assumptions, and as a way to let Andy mentor each of us.

Sports = or ≠ Social Responsibility?


This week, NYU’s Tisch Institute for Sports Management hosted what it called the first-ever conference on Sports and Social Responsibility.  When I heard that it was the first ever, I thought “no way” and then googled to find that, sure enough, that’s correct. Noting but articles on the subject dating back to 2006.  Executives across the multimillion and multibillion dollar sports leagues – MLS, NBA, WNBA, NFL, NASCAR, MLB, LPGA, PGA, and NHL – are hungry to address this topic. They turned out to pay rapt attention, alongside corporate and foundation leaders.

The conference opened with a challenge to the leadership and involvement of iconic figures in sports.  It turned to a discussion that concluded:

  • Sports figures are highly visible, often watched more closely than movie stars
  • Every sports organization should encourage sports figures to be socially engaged
  • Some may be too young or not quite ready. In that case, organizations should make social engagement available without forcing it.

The most memorable moment came when Dikembe Mutombo, global ambassador of the NBA (and a hero of my husband’s), passionately echoed the main premise of the day.

“If a player does not want to be engaged socially, they should not be part of the organization,” he remarked. “Social responsibility is part of the equation.”

Mutombo, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and gives generously to charities there, added,  “It is every organization’s responsibility to help players get there, and if they can’t, then get them off the team.”

He then went on to describe his sense of the NBA:

“The NBA recognizes the power to serve as part of our culture.  That means every player, retired player, coach, and employee of the NBA has ridden an elevator up and needs to be committed to sending an elevator back down to someone else who needs it.

“There are people all over the world who need a lift. Social responsibility and giving back is at the heart of everything we do at the NBA.  We tell every new player, ‘I hope you want to be part of an organization that takes this seriously and cares so deeply.’

“There is enough of a program that when you take the elevator to the top we help everyone send it back down.”

His closing line:. “If you don’t think you have some moral responsibility to the community, that is ridiculous.’ ”

How many organizations that call themselves socially responsible have a culture that helps people engage socially, builds a consciousness that recognizes the power and importance of social responsibility in everyone in the organization? How many of them get rid of the people who don’t follow these simple rules?

Or, put differently, how many of our sports leagues, companies, and even schools can learn from this standard?

That day, on the NYU campus, my husband’s hero became my hero.

Dikembe Mutombo: Georgetown graduate; 18-season player with the National Basketball Association, and thought to be one of the greatest defensive players of all time – a four-time defensive player of the year AND an eight-time All-Star champion. Retired from the Houston Rockets at the end of the 2009 season.  Built a hospital, dedicated to his mother and focused on preventing people from needlessly dying at a young age, in his home country, The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Personally invested $25 million and years of his life to the hospital, which is now a self-sustaining medical facility. The hospital has served more than 180,000 patients. Heads the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation and is a global ambassador for the NBA.