In 1997, Time magazine named Intel CEO Andy Grove its Man of the Year. The title was often given as an honor, but not necessarily — it denoted the person, group, idea or device that wielded the biggest influence on that year, whether that influence was positive, negative or controversial. The magazine’s treatment of Grove, however, was particularly laudatory. It not only portrayed him, Intel and their joint contributions favorably, but conveyed that the scope of their impact extended far beyond 1997. As much as treating Grove as the person of the year, it treated him as the person of the information age.
The issue began with an assessment of the semiconductor revolution written by Walter Isaacson, then the managing editor of Time, who would go on to write successful biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. Isaacson acknowledged key breakthroughs that preceded Grove’s tech career, particularly the transistor and the integrated circuit, but treated Grove as a singular figure for both Intel and the tech revolution.
Isaacson credited Grove’s tendency “to push with paranoiac obsession the bounds of innovation” with turning Intel into the powerhouse it had become, making microchips an essential component of daily life and remaking the modern economy.
Time also provided a more directly biographical feature on Grove, “A Survivor’s Tale” by Joshua Cooper Ramo. The piece emphasized the remarkable challenges Grove had overcome in life: his early childhood as a Jewish boy in Hungary living under a pseudonym to avoid detection by the occupying Nazis; his later childhood living behind the Iron Curtain before sneaking to Austria and immigrating to the U.S. as a 20-year-old refugee; his educational success in advanced science classes despite the hearing problem that required him to lip-read his professors in an English to which he was not native (a series of operations later in life would restore the hearing he lost in a childhood bout of scarlet fever); his rise at Intel and the unpretentious but rigorous style he brought to the company’s management; his survival of prostate cancer through a self-designed treatment regimen.
Throughout all of it, the article conveyed the sense that these experiences were not just crucial in forging Grove’s character, but that of Intel, particularly the company’s ability to thrive in an unforgiving industry.
The Time issue hit newsstands on Dec. 21, 1997. It was the first time the magazine had chosen a single person directly connected to the digital age (the closest it had come previously was naming the personal computer the Machine of the Year in 1982), but it would not be the last.
The magazine would go on to recognize an e-sales magnate (Jeff Bezos), a social media pioneer (Mark Zuckerberg) and even “You” (the millions of people who created user-generated content through their personal electronic devices). But the magazine’s recognition of the impact one tech pioneer essentially started with Grove, the man Isaacson recognized as “the person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and innovative potential of microchips.”
This story is among a series running to celebrate Intel’s 50th anniversary in 2018.