Gordon Moore

In the Intel Trinity Bob Noyce was the charismatic genius, Andy Grove the driven, intense implementer and Gordon Moore was the thinker.

It is revealing that when asked by imec CEO Luc van den Hove who were the three people he most admired in the industry he said Noyce and Grove. The third was John Bardeen.

Moore’s deliberate, considered speech reflected a brain which untangled every knot through cool, calm, logical, reasoning. He was understated, unassuming, disdaining to speak for effect – the thoughtful person to whom people turn at times of uncertainty. An interviewer once noted that you could spend a week with him without finding out who he was. He’d never tell you.

Ironically, when asked once what he wanted his legacy to be, Moore replied: “Anything but Moore’s Law.” Modest, as always, Moore said he was observing an already established pattern and cracked that the industry would not have developed more slowly without it.

He laughed at his reputation as the industry’s foremost visionary:  “I look at my record of forecasting and it’s not too good,” he said “I missed the PC, I missed the Internet, I missed a lot of other things.”

Born in a small coastal California town, where his father was deputy sheriff, and his mother’s family had a shop, Moore found his vocation at the age of 10 when the next door neighbours gave their son a chemistry set for Christmas. Playing with it together the two boys developed a fascination for causing explosions. It taught Moore that chemistry was something which produced tangible results – you could do things with it.

Doing things with chemistry was to occupy Moore for the next 60 years and make him the richest man in California and the inspiration for the world’s most important industry.

When Bill Shockley wanted a chemist, and he could have had the pick of the finest, he chose Moore, a graduate of UC Berkeley and Caltech.

About leaving  Shockley with seven others he said: “ The idea of setting up a company never occurred to us. None of us had an entrepreneurial inclination. We thought we liked working together and decided it would be nice to find someplace to work together.“ 

Two years later, after finding that place to work together – Fairchild – each of the eight founders got $250,000 for their founders’ shares.

“The exciting thing about Fairchild was that everything was a surprise,” said Moore, “that we made these things and people bought them was a surprise. Fairchild had this mine of technology –it was ridiculously rich. We had more ideas than we could exploit.“

Fairchild was also important because  it established a culture for Silicon Valley. The goal was egalitarianism, There were no visible signs of rank, no corporate hierarchy, no reserved places in the car park, no individual offices, no dress code. Anyone could challenge anyone else if they thought they had a better idea. The purchasing policy was that anyone could buy anything they wanted so long as no one else objected.The values were engineering values.“We tried to let the best technical brains make the technical decisions,” said Moore.

When Intel was founded Moore, like Noyce, put in $245,000. 30 years later his stake was worth $15 billion. “Intel was a tremendous opportunity for us to have it all go round a second time,“ said Moore.

Moore used his wealth to protect the environment. As a life-long fisherman  (“I’ll fish for anything-trout, marlin, anything.”) he could see the effects of pollution. He also donated $5 billion to support educational initiatives.

The chip industry lost its inspiration yesterday and the world lost a very great man.