(January 3, 1929 – March 24, 2023)
Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel and best known for Moore’s law, has left us. In 1965 in an article in Electronics Magazine, Gordon predicted that the number of transistors would double every two years. Five years later, Carver Mead coined the term “Moore’s law” to describe this phenomenon, known by this term ever since. Of course, it is not a law, but it was a very astute observation.
Gordon was a semiconductor pioneer, starting in Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1956. Then in 1957, along with Bob Noyce, they started Fairchild Semiconductor, the company that created the Silicon Valley Semiconductor Industry. It was there that he hired Andy Grove. In 1968, Noyce and Moore founded Intel. Andy Grove was amongst the first employees, as was my mentor, former boss, and close friend, Les Vadasz.
Noyce, Moore, and Grove embodied the three elements that I believe are necessary for sustained success; vision, strategy, and execution. Bob was the visionary, Gordon was the strategist, and Andy was the implementer. I had the privilege of knowing all three of them. When I joined Intel in 1984, the senior executives would teach management courses. So I got the opportunity to study with Gordon.
I first met him during my interview at Intel in the summer of 1984. Both Gordon and Andy had to sign off on my hiring. He was the CEO at that time, and Grove was the COO. Noyce was the board’s chairman, Moore was CEO from 1975 to 1987 when Grove took on that role, and Moore became Board Chair.
I joined Intel in 1984 and had a chance to interact with Gordon often. I consider myself very fortunate to have had that experience. He was mild-mannered but incredibly thoughtful, with a subtle sense of humor. In 1975, Intel acquired Microma, a Swiss digital watch company. Intel did not realize that watches were fashion items rather than technology devices. Intel eventually lost millions. Gordon was still wearing a Microma watch, and whenever someone would propose doing something outside the company’s business and technical expertise, Gordon would remove the watch and put it on the table. He did not have to say anything more.
Gordon was a modest man who valued family. In 2000, he and his wife, Betty, created the Moore Foundation, a major nonprofit.
While there are many significant founders of technology companies, Gordon was unique, in my experience, never letting his success and notoriety feed his ego.
Moore’s most consequential decision, along with Grove, was in 1985 to exit the dynamic RAM business, the company’s founding business. Moore and Grove realized that the competition with Japan would eventually make Intel no longer a viable enterprise. They decided to focus all the nascent microprocessor market. It was not yet clear that the personal computer market would grow into the largest segment of the computer industry nor that intel would be able to be the dominant microprocessor supplier. The decision to exit the memory business resulted in massive layoffs. It was an excruciating decision and a problematic execution, but it resulted in Intel becoming one of the world’s most valuable companies by 2000.
May his memory be a blessing.
Thanks for a thoughtful and touching article, Avram.
You are most welcome.
Was there a fundamental reason Intel could not keep up with the the Japanese in the RAM business? Not enough smart engineers? I understand profit margins being much slimmer than in the CPU space, but there would still be a premium on automating production and increasing chip capacity. The Biden admin is spending tens of billions in IRA money to bring chip production back to the US. Will the US be able to compete in chip production going forward where it could not do so in the past?
Yes, there were a number of reasons; 1) manufacturing skills, 2) willingness to sell at a loss, and 3) government support. Intel greatly improved its manufacturing capabilities overtime (unfortunately slowly loosing them in the last ten years or more. It was a smart move to go to microprocessors for many reasons but it was a very risky move. I personally discussed this with Andy before and after the decision. Andy was visibly frighten buy what the Japanese would do.