Note to Andy Grove: Mind Trying on This Red, White & Blue Suit?

Top 10 Reasons Why Andy Grove Should Be Our Captain America


#5: Andy Grove knows how to balance confidence and doubt. He knows how to lead.

Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, shares Grove's own words:

'None of us have a real understanding of where we are heading. I don't. I have senses about it. But decisions don't wait, investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritization don't wait, for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later. I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.'

Sutton adds:

This balancing act between confidence and doubt is a hallmark of great bosses. The confidence inspires people to follow them and believe in them, but the doubt helps ensure they get things right. They are always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong, and inviting others to challenge their conclusions (albeit usually in private and in 'backstage' conversations).

Yes, the hallmark of good bosses. And great leaders. And born superheroes. Go, Andy.

#4: He's never stopped learning. In Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Richard Tedlow writes:

He never stopped growing. He never confined himself to one specialty. In 1997, he said, 'I went from chemistry, to chemical engineering, to applied physics, to solid state device physics to manufacturing, all in a 10-12 year period.' After manufacturing Grove could've added that he migrated to management, from there to leadership of Intel, to spokesperson for high technology, to expert on corporate governance, to, arguably, the most admired business leader of his era.

This layered, multidimensional knowledge can help us out of our current economic mess. Here's a man who arrived in America penniless, and through sheer grit succeeded at the highest levels of education to become a co-founder of one of the most successful companies in U.S. history. But more importantly, he reveres manufacturing's place in our country's infrastructure. Put on the Captain America suit, Andy. You get the job.

#3: He tells it like it is. Period. Robert Sutton praises Andy Grove's "honesty and wisdom" and "complete lack of jargon monoxide.'" Jargon monoxide (gotta love it), Sutton explains, is a term coined by Polly LaBarre, author of Mavericks at Work. It means just what you’d think. Hollow, meaningless language often used by business executives. Sutton writes:

Some of the worst 'jargon monoxide' I can think of includes 'value added,' 'competitive advantage,' 'distinctive competence,' and 'monetize.'

But Andy Grove doesn't use words meant to confuse. No superhero worth his cape would arrive on the scene of a disaster and say, "Have no fear, citizens! I'm here to monetize! Together, we can restore America's competitive advantage!"

#2: He's courageous. He calls out America's venture capitalists and his fellow computer industry colleagues for creating jobs in China instead of here. In "How America Can Create Jobs," which Grove wrote for Bloomberg Business Week, he doesn't mince words:

Clearly, the great Silicon Valley innovation machine hasn’t been creating many jobs of late—unless you’re counting Asia, where American tech companies have been adding jobs like mad for years…

Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.

Grove describes how Intel blossomed from a $3 million startup in 1968--making memory chips for the computer industry--to become one of the biggest technology companies in the world:

We had to build factories, hire, train, and retain employees, establish relationships with suppliers, and sort out a million other things before Intel could become a billion-dollar company. Three years later the company went public and grew to be one of the biggest technology companies in the world. By 1980, 10 years after our IPO, about 13,000 people worked for Intel in the U.S.

Over time, writes Grove, as wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S., the computer industry fled to China:

American companies discovered that they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done more cheaply overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000, lower than it was before the first PC, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975. Meanwhile, a very effective computer manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers—factory employees, engineers, and managers…

…for every Apple worker in the U.S. there are 10 people in China working on iMacs, iPods, and iPhones. The same roughly 10-to-1 relationship holds for Dell, disk-drive maker Seagate Technology and other companies.

Grove counters those who say the U. S. no longer needs manufacturing. Manufacturing, he says, is crucial to keeping all steps of innovation here at home. If we lose the manufacturing rung of the ladder, the entire end-product can easily slip out of our grasp:

We broke the chain of experience that is so important in technological evolution. As happened with batteries, abandoning today's 'commodity' manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow's emerging industry.

And most importantly, we lose jobs:

You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work—and much of the profits—remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?"

Isn't that a gutsy statement? He's targeting the same tech executives and entrepreneurs who are his friends. That can't be easy to do. And he's sticking up for the "masses of unemployed" left behind when his colleagues set up shop overseas. Have you heard any other computer industry executives--retired or not--say that? Steve Jobs? Bill Gates?Nope.

#1: He's a problem-solver. His solutions make sense. Read this:

We got to our current state as a consequence of many of us taking actions focused on our own companies’ next milestones. An example: Five years ago a friend joined a large VC firm as a partner. His responsibility was to make sure that all the startups they funded had a 'China strategy,' meaning a plan to move what jobs they could to China...VCs should have a partner in charge of every startup’s 'U.S. strategy.'

The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars—fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations. Such a system would be a daily reminder that while pursuing our company goals, all of us in business have a responsibility to maintain the industrial base on which we depend and the society whose adaptability—and stability—we may have taken for granted…

If what I’m suggesting sounds protectionist, so be it.

And…getting back to wisdom. Grove concludes his well-stated piece by reminding readers of his roots:

I fled Hungary as a young man in 1956 to come to the U.S. Growing up in the Soviet bloc, I witnessed first-hand the perils of both government overreach and a stratified population.

He's sounding an alarm, calling for a change in business as usual. He's saying We could lose all this tomorrow. I've seen it happen.

Ok, Andy Grove. I guess you don't even need to put on the Captain America suit, but it would draw attention to what you're saying. What camera could resist filming a 74-year-old computer industry icon dressed in a red, white and blue spandex uni-tard on the steps of the nation's capitol?

Armed with his shield, our new Captain America could stride--confidently--into the halls of Congress. I have no idea exactly what he would say. But it would be really, really cool.