What is Leadership? (Rosner Day 1)

Dov Frohman is the founder of the Israeli branch of the Intel corporation. In a career spanning four decades, he invented the EPROM — the first reprogrammable read-only semiconductor memory — and was one of the driving forces in the … Read More

By / March 6, 2008

Dov Frohman is the founder of the Israeli branch of the Intel corporation. In a career spanning four decades, he invented the EPROM — the first reprogrammable read-only semiconductor memory — and was one of the driving forces in the high-tech boom in the Israeli economy. He has also served as visiting professor at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, and as professor of applied physics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, where he directed the School of Applied Science and Technology.

We asked Shmuel Rosner, the chief US correspondent for Haaretz, to interview Frohman about his new book Leadership the Hard Way — and the insights it contains about the qualities that define leadership, how they have been applied historically, and how they have yet to be applied to global and Israeli politics.

From: Shmuel Rosner To: Dov Frohman Re: Leadership

Dear Dov, I think I should start our dialogue – dedicated to discussing your new book – with a confession. If it was not for the creative minds of Jewcy editors, I would have never read your book. I should thank them for this opportunity, as it was a pleasure reading it, and also a strange experience for someone totally unaccustomed to reading “how to” guides or “business” books. But truth is, your book is not really about business. It is about leadership. You say that it can’t be taught but then goes on and try and teach us something anyway. “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience," wrote George Bernard Shaw. But you seem to disagree: making us learn from your experience as a high-tech inventor, a Holocaust survivor, as businessman, manager, pioneer really, is what you’re trying to do. This proves you to be an optimist at heart, although reading the book doesn’t give one such impression. It is not about the excitement of discovery, or the triumph of originality and dedication – but rather about the constant struggle for survival. You survived under Nazi rule as a child, you survived a deadly storm as a pilot, you survived wars as an Israeli, you survived the ups and downs of the rollercoaster that is the global economy. Survived – and started worrying again without even a pause to breath, to enjoy the moment. In a way, your book can be read as a sad story about the booming high-tech industry of Israel. We would have loved to think that Israel’s success in that field is all about Jewish genius, or maybe about our youthful spirit, or about our unique organized-mess way of thinking. And it is – to a point. But if your book is to be believed it is not mostly about all those positive qualities of Israelis, but rather about their paranoid nature. Here’s a quote from the second chapter, the one officially dealing with survival (the other chapters all deal with the same topic but under different names):

I realize that my preoccupation – some might say obsession – with survival is, at least in part, a by-product of my experience as a child during the Second World War.

And here’s one from chapter four, Leadership Under Fire, in which you describe your decision, as the head of Intel Israel, to leave your labs and offices opened as the first Gulf War was forcing factories, businesses and offices to close down because of the threat of Iraqi missiles:

I was convinced that a complete shut-down of our operations threatened the long-term survival of Intel Israel… The key stumbling block to further investment in Israel was the lingering impression of geopolitical instability in the region… I made quick decision. We weren’t going to take the easy way out. We would ignore the civil defense instruction. We were going to make our people come to work.

Here we have it, in full color: survival meets survival. The need to protect your employees, help them survive the Iraqi attack contradicts the need for the small Israeli branch of the world power that is Intel that it can operate under the conditions inherent to the Israeli neighborhood. The Israeli government chose to close the country down – you chose to spite the government and go to work. This was leadership, you say, but as all leaders luck was on your side. Had a missile hit Intel, had dozens of workers been hurt, maybe severely, by your decision – this would have been considered an act of carelessness, of bungled priorities. This is also a motive that runs through the book. Your had a great invention, the EPROM (and I’m going to refrain from getting into technical details here, but let me just use the quote from the book saying that this product has helped “Intel’s revenues grew seven-fold, from $9 million in 1971 to $66 million in 1973”) – and this invention came about almost by accident. So there it is – my version of your recipe for successful leadership: the perfect mixture of paranoia and luck. The Israeli secret that lead the country to be one of the most successful high-tech communities in the word – “a tiny country” that “have more than 70 companies listed in the U.S. NASDAQ stock exchange – and attract twice that venture capital investment as the entire European Union”. But let me ask you this: is it worth the price of such paranoia, such fear for survival? All the best, Shmuel

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