I happened to be cleaning up some old files and came across a number of my performance reviews at Intel. I am posting a summary of one, written in 1993, which dealt with my job performance almost twenty years ago. This was the beginning of the most important period of my career. It was also the beginning of the Internet as we know it, with the introduction of Mosaic, the first web browser. The view was written by Les Vadasz, my boss at Intel and badge number 3. It was also signed by Craig Barrett who at the time was the COO of Intel and later became CEO. Please read the review first and then my comments about it. I have made some small changes like spelling out some abbreviations, and deleting reference to other people.
EMPLOYEE: Avram Miller
REVIEW PERIOD: to April 1993
PAY GRADE: 12, promoting to 13
As VP of Corporate Business Development, Avram has been focusing on “convergence” issues in the computer, consumer, and telecommunication areas.
Avram was the key advocate for the advantages of the x86 architecture for the Home PC market. This was at a time when the “RISC wars” were being rekindled at the low end. He made the sale at Intel, Microsoft, and at some key customers. Avram effectively supported the creation of our internal program. He also managed the initial Microsoft relationship well. Avram’s strong initial focus on Microsoft (rather then working with everybody…) was, in retrospect the right strategy. When the time came to expand our relationships, Avram was instrumental in getting them started.
The cable industry: Avram has gained insight of the strategic relevance of this industry, and its key players. Getting a 386 design win at General Instruments is a key milestone – Avram’s activities were key to make that happen. Avram also gained strong operational support for his program.
By following his hunch, Avram established strong relations with both General Magic and AT&T. This may provide us with important inroads to other business segments in the future.
Trends in content delivery by electronic means has become increasingly clear, thanks to Avram’s searches and learnings. We are beginning to understand the relevant pieces, and I expect that we will build some solid programs within Intel, during the coming year.
Avram’s #1 strength is his intuitive feel for important trends, his ability to burrow in, understand who does what, and position ourselves to take advantage of these trends.
Avram takes risks; not afraid to explore uncharted territory, advocate “alien” positions. For example, Avram was one of the few lonely voices who advocated the home market, way before people listened.
While Avram is known for moving in many directions, I was was very impressed by his focus and attention to details in developing the consumer relationship with Microsoft. Ditto for the GI Program
The most significant issue is converting the knowledge and insights we gain into business value for Intel. While Avram can be extremely resourceful in pursing an outside lead, he gets very frustrated,very fast when he cannot get the right internal following. I see improvements, but much more is needed, not just in establishing contacts, but working through problems within Intel.
There are some interesting things in the review from a historical perspective of the computer industry. The year before this review, I began to understand the role that the personal computer would play in the home. My major accomplishment at Intel the year before this review was centered around Local Area Networking (LAN). I led the acquisition of some companies, and supported an internal effort to develop LAN products, made minority investments in some key core technology companies. By the time of this review (April 1992-1993), I knew that the PC was “it” even though most in the computer industry thought that interactivity would enter the home in a big way via Interactive TV. I realized that residential broadband combined with the Internet was key in creating a the medium of interactive communications, entertainment and commerce we all now enjoy. The Personal Computer was the only device that consumers owned or could acquire that was capable of taking advantage of this possibility. The cable industry was not willing to incur the cost of a set top box capable of interactivity and the televisions of that time did not have adequate resolution. Furthermore, interactivity was more a two foot experience than a ten foot one. There was a great deal of resistance to this concept inside Intel. When I first voiced my desire to work in the consumer space, Andy Grove, then CEO, said I was wasting my time. He thought that the only role for computers was in business and could not imagine that it could become an entertainment device in the home. It seems straight forward looking back, but it was not so clear then. By 1994, 45% of computers using X86 were going to the home. See this by an Intel Executive: Executives at Intel point out that almost 30 percent of the nation’s homes already have personal computers, a figure that will rise to well above 50 percent by the end of the decade. And 52 percent of the homes with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 a year have PC’s, as well as 65 percent of homes above $100,000, according to Link Resources, a market-research firm in New York.
Even computer industry executives say they have been surprised by how rapidly the personal computer is being adopted in the home. “We in the computer industry thought our business was in corporations,” said Avram Miller, vice president for business development at Intel. He said that last year 45 percent of the personal computers with Intel chips were shipped to homes rather than businesses and that revenue from the sale of personal computers surpassed that from color televisions in the United States.” The rest of the article can be read here.
Intel was committed to what was called the X86 architecture. This was the instruction set for microprocessors that were used in PCs. At the time of my review the main products of Intel were the 386 and the 486. The Pentium (almost called the 568) was launched in March of 1993. We actually targeted the consumer market in the Pentium marketing launch and I think my activities played a role in making that possible. While Intel had a traditional competitor in AMD with respect to the X86 market, there were new architectural competitors in the consumer market (SPARC, MIPS ant others). Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC)raised its head and many notables in the computer industry saw that as the death of Complex Instructions Set Computing (CISC) which was typified by the X86 (later X86 was referred to as IA for Intel Architecture). At Intel we also had RISC architecture (i960 and i860). In fact, earlier in my career at Intel, I was responsible for the i960. But I felt strongly that if Intel was going to win in the consumer space it would have to be with the X86. I advocated using the 386, which was introduced in 1985, to be the embedded processor in set top boxes. The set top boxes never happened but it kept Microsoft from moving to another architecture and put a protective wall around the X86 PC.
Around this time I had already been working with General Instruments, the leading equipment provider to the Cable Industry to develop the cable modem. There is no mention of this in the review. I guess because no one at Intel yet realized the potential and importance of residential broadband. Also, I was keeping it pretty quiet because I did not want Microsoft to find out. I was tired of Intel being Microsoft’s bitch.
The review also mentions my activities with General Magic and AT&T. General Magic, started by Marc Porat (who strangely was the producer of a movie about Digital Equipment Corp in which I played the staring role), was trying to become what the iPhone eventually became. It like many things I got involved with, was ahead of its time but we learned a lot from our involvement and also made many important long term relationships with members of that team. I do remember spending time with AT&T which was an important customer of Intel’s. AT&Ts manufacturing arm and Bell Labs were spun out a bit later as Lucent. I must have been working to get them to adopt DSL because later we had a joint announcement with Lucent about this.
During this period, I was trying to figure out how content would be developed for the new medium I imagined. I thought incorrectly, that most of it would come from those that were creating traditional media and started to spend time with executives from the media industry as well as the talent. For instance, I start going to the Allen&Co Sun Valley Conferences until 1999 when after leaving Intel, I was delisted. Later, Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel would accuse me of being a “star fucker”. But I busted him. After introducing Andy to Stephen Spielberg once when he came to a visit at Intel, Andy reluctantly agreed to a photo op with Stephen. A few months later, when I was at Grove’s house for a meeting, I saw the photo taped to his refrigerator. There were no such photos taped to my fridge.
The biggest problem area identified in the review discusses difficulties in work effectively within Intel. At that time, I would describe myself as an Activist Strategist. I would tell executives outside Intel that my job was to get Intel to do things it did not want to do. Actually, that is what I thought my job was. I was only marginally successful at that. Intel had a very insular culture. Most Intel executives just knew other Intel people. Days were filled with lots of internal meetings and discussions. So to be effective inside you had to spend lots of time within the company. Frankly, I could not stand it. I knew that I should do more of that but I also knew that if I did that I would become very unhappy, probably leave and that would not help Intel much. I did get better at it but also my success had a role to play. The investments my group were making began paying off. The more money I made for the company the more “manhood” I acquired in the eyes of other Intel Executives.
So I developed another strategy to influence Intel. The PR department at Intel was desperate for executives that were outgoing and had a personality. I made myself very available to them. This resulted in many speaking opportunities and interviews with journalists. I was able to get journalists in very important newspapers and magazines to say the things that I would have wanted to say inside of Intel which would have been rejected had they come from my mouth. Now, I could reference an article in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times at a management meeting. This was not without its down side. In 1996, USA Today published a page and half profile on me called “For Intel, he’s a one-man think tank”. It almost got me fired. It was a very flattering article and relatively factual but not the kind of thing that sat well with Intel people. Some of my colleagues at Intel must have gone nuts. I bet they loved this part”
“When Miller is not working, which is rare, he plays the piano and dreams of having
enough time to design women’s clothing” (note: I do believe I am the original metro sexual)”.
Frankly, reading it just now makes me kind of proud. Here are some of the quotes:
“Avram is the one who gets up every day tries to look over the
horizon” Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks
“Avram is an enzyme” Carl Bressler, President of talent agency Montana Artists
“He deserves much of the credit for their development” Brian Roberts (CEO Comcast) speaking of cable modems
“Avram and Intel are taking computers into our lives that five years ago would have been unimaginable” Sandy Climan, EVP MCA
The whole article can be read here ( Intel’s one man think thank)