The guy who makes change look easy

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Andy Grove’s story is so popular because he has the one quality all leaders need: He can turn on a dime.

Grove—the genius behind Intel—did it in 1957, when Hungary’s Soviet-controlled border opened for a moment and he plunged through to escape to America. An only child who’d never been abroad, Grove set aside everything he knew and leapt into the unknown, arriving in New York City and enrolling in college.

In the late 1960s, he did it again, leaving Fairchild Semiconductor to help start Intel. Grove was put in charge of operations in 1968 and found himself suddenly having to lead people. He tackled it as an engineering problem, trying to figure out precisely how fast his team could grow without chaos and failure.

By 1983, he presided over a rapidly growing manufacturer of memory chips.

Grove’s most famous leap came in 1985, after competition in memory chips exploded and Intel faced extinction. At that moment, Grove realized that his company needed to quit making memory chips and throw everything into its microprocessor, which until then had been used only to time traffic lights and in bacon-slicing machines.

He axed 8,000 people and lost millions of dollars before IBM put his processor at the heart of its new PC.

Grove turned on a dime again in 1990, when his marketing chief suggested a huge consumer campaign using the slogan “Intel Inside.” Most of the company’s executives didn’t get it, but Grove found it brilliant and turned an invisible machine component into one of the biggest brands in the world.

He did stumble in 1994, when he couldn’t understand why a tiny flaw in the Pentium chip caused a public uproar and a recall.

But now, Intel has spun around again and is trying to place its devices at the core of the revolution in health care information and medical systems.

—Adapted from “The Education of Andy Grove,” Richard S. Tedlow, Fortune.

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