Last month, I chaired a panel at an event held by the Intel Alumni Group. Like many companies with strong cultures, the alumni still identify with the company and therefore with each other. It was an unusual event for me. I had not participated in any high tech event in some ten years with this one exception. While at Intel, I had been a very active participant at industry events as a key note speaker, speaker, panelist and panel chair. The Intel PR people found that I was “user friendly” and I realized that the difference between being a dreamer and a visionary was having a PR dept so I cooperated. In fact, I loved public speaking. But after I left Intel in 1999, I no longer had a platform or anyone to pay for my expenses to attend conferences. I am still not sure why I agreed to chair the panel Maybe it was because I feel I owe Intel much and the much of the Intel that I owe is now alumni. But probably it was just that I was asked and asked in such a nice way by Bruce Schechter, the founder and president of the Intel Alumni Network. A summary of the event with photos can be seen here.
I had two key requirement. The first was that I could pick the panel. I knew from my past experience that the purpose of a panel (or a talk) is not only to provide information but also to provide entertainment. I am pretty good at both of these but probably better at the later. So in order to do that I had to pick people that I knew to have opinions and most importantly attitude. Here is a link to the bios for the panel members. The second was that the panel discussion would be video taped and made available on the Internet. You can see it here.
I decided to break the panel discussion into three parts. The first part was the question: In what way did you experience at Intel help you to become an entrepreneur or early stage investor. The second questions was: In what way did your experience at Intel not prepare you to become an entrepreneur and/or early stage investor. The third question had to do with follow on interest by the group in the topic of venture investing.
The event had a pretty big turn out by the standards of the other Alumni events. And many former senior executives attended. I was amazed that Andy Grove actually came. I was very happy to see him and was very pleased when he later send an email to Bruce complimenting the panel discussion (I had not gotten very many compliments from him during my time at Intel). But it was also sad to see how frail Andy had become. He suffers from Parkinson Disease. I am sure his mind (and his tongue) is as sharp as ever and he must be so frustrated by his physical disabilities.
The video is the best way to understand the panel discussion. It starts at the 12th minutes. Prior to that is the normal introduction stuff and a brief speech by Ted Jenkins one of the first Intel Employees. He spoke about Intel as a start up which may be of interest to some of you. Here is a link to a paper the Ted co wrote on the early days.
One of the thing I had to consider when talking about Intel was the life cycle of the company. The company was founded in 1968. Intel had two lives. The first was as the leader in semi conductor memory. The second was at the leader in microprocessors. The memory business had been under attach in the early 80s by Japaneses companies. The survival of Intel was at stake. The companies revenue was under a billion dollars. That is when one of the bravest and most significant management decisions was ever taken. Gordon Moore and Andy Grove decided to get out of the memory business and become an microprocessor company which meant laying off more than a third of the company. In my opinion, the company had an opportunity in the mid 90s to have a third life as Network/Internet company but there was no one at the company left capable of leading that transition. Here is a link to a time line of the company. So in thinking about how the Intel experience informed people, it is important to keep in mind when the person was working at the company.
I have often been critical of Intel but I have great respect for the company and what I learned there. Andy really appreciated it when I said during the panel discussion that I find myself trying to teaching entrepreneurs to do the things I would not do when I was at Intel.
The panel generally felt that the experience of working at Intel provided them with with the skills to be more a board member or an advisor to an early stage company than to be the entrepreneur that started it. That makes sense since Intel was a pretty large company when everyone on the panel work there. It is hard for someone that works for a large company to start or go to an early stage company. It seems that there are very few successful companies that were started by former Intel employees.
Towards the end of the panel there was a discussion about what happened to Intel and how the culture had changed. It was pretty interesting but maybe had a little too much Intel bashing.