From Herzl of high tech to prophet of doom

Dov Frohman was a stubborn, opinionated manager, one of the founding fathers of Israel's high-tech industry. He raised entrepreneurs such as Eli Harari and Boaz Eitan. Now he talks to "Globes" about the leadership crisis worldwide and in Israel.

In September 1970, Dov Frohman, then aged 31, was summoned to a feedback meeting with his managers at Intel. He wasn't worried. After all, he was the one who had invented the erasable programmable read only memory (EPROM), the first volatile memory that could be programmed easily. Even if no one had realized the greatness of his invention at the time, it was clear to already clear to Frohman that the memory chip had brought the present closer to the future, and that it could revolutionize the world of computers and memories.

Frohman's eyes scanned the text in the opinion on his performance and as he read on, his face went pale. The review pilloried him. In his distress, he was already thinking of how he would approach Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel and one of its founders, and complain about the scathing review. But when he reached the bottom of the last page he found that the review was signed by none other than Grove himself.

Frohman recalls that he hardly slept a wink that night. But when he got up next morning, he thought to himself that a review as scathing as this, was actually not a bad management idea. "I tried it out on my technician first, and then on many other people, including Dedi," says Prof. Frohman, casting an amused glance at David (Dedi) Perlmutter, senior VP and general manager of Intel's mobility group, sitting beside him.

No one has ever described Frohman (69) as a "high tech guru". Yet despite this, he is most certainly deserving of such a title, when one studies the list of inventions he has to his name, his achievements and academic record. He helped move Intel up a league, and caused the company to cross the ocean and develop a wide range of operations in Israel. He managed Intel Israel for 25 years, raising a long list of high-tech luminaries such as SanDisk founder and CEO Dr. Eli Harari, Saifun founder and CEO Dr. Boaz Eitan, serial entrepreneur Dr. Giora Yaron, and many others. He is a stubborn, opinionated manager who eschews media exposure. Frohman has played a significant role not just in the shaping of Intel but also technology in Israel in general. In the spirit of Israel's 60th anniversary, one could even describe him as the "Herzl of Israeli high-tech."

A combination of biography and recipes

Frohman has not held any managerial role since retiring from Intel in 2001. "I retired," he says in an exclusive interview with "Globes," "so that I could decide what I want to do when I grow up. And I still haven't found exactly what I'm looking for." Until he does, he divides his time between his homes in Jerusalem and Italy, and flies aircraft. He is now making his return to the limelight with the publication of his new book, "Leadership the Hard Way."

Last week, Frohman was invited to an intimate book launch, attended by many of those that have a high regard for him, including Harari, Intel VP mobility group Molly Eden, and NetManage chairman, president and CEO Zvi Alon. The evening was organized by the California Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC), an important force in business deals in Silicon Valley. The CICC is accustomed to organizing major events and hosting delegations, of the kind that bring together the hearts and wallets of Israel and Silicon Valley. This time, however, it organized a tribute.

On stage next to Frohman were Perlmutter and Robert Howard, who helped him write the book. Had we not been sitting in Intel's global headquarters in Santa Clara, and if the model of the chip invented by Frohman were not exhibited in the small museum adjacent to the lobby, we would have had no difficulty believing that Frohman's tractor was in the cark park outside. That the tribute we were attending was to one of the founders of a kibbutz in the Negev. In his faded jeans and black T-shirt, Frohman looked more like a kibbutz pioneer than a high-tech pioneer. The glasses hanging on a red lace and the flowing beard only served to strengthen the impression.

For Frohman, this was his first visit to Intel's headquarters since he retired. He told the audience, "The main reason for my decision to walk away from the high-tech world, is that I knew that my replacements would do a better job than me. I realized that I would only get in the way if I stayed on."

So what's the book about? "There are management books that are recipes and those that are biographies. The new book is a combination of both," Frohman told the CICC conference. "The point I make in the book is that you can't teach management, but you can learn, the hard way. Business administration schools teach leadership and claim they're educating the industry leaders of the future, and I say that is impossible. We all find it hard to learn from our own experience, so how can we be expected to learn from the experience of others? It's pointless. In most cases, business administration schools are good for networking and statistics, but most of what you learn comes from experience."

Frohman continued, "A good leader should have a number of important essential characteristics. Integrity, an instinct for survival, an ability to go against the grain, a passion for the profession, and an ability to leverage opportunities are just some of them. Some of the world's leaders don't have a single one of these characteristics, and that's why our world looks the way it does - not all that good."

Globes: Which leaders are you referring to?

Frohman: "The leadership in Israel, the US, and now Italy as well."

If businesspeople were involved in politics, the situation would be different - why is their absence so noticeable?

"Until a decade ago, a successful manager in industry was too old for politics. 65 or even 70. I don't believe you can jump into politics in one go and that includes military people who go straight into senior roles in industry, or in politics. Most of them fail, but they simply won't admit it. In any event, many high-tech success stories happen at a young age. I would like to see those people who made money at the age of 40-45 retiring and entering politics. But people in Israel are apathetic. Each person looks after his own interests and leaves the rest to the politicians," he says despondently.

Frohman is especially proud of his baby, Intel Israel, which didn't always have it that easy. "The founding of Intel Israel went against the grain, just the invention of the EPROM chip did," he says. The establishment of the centers in Israel were accompanied by a battle both within Israel and overseas, and it came in for strong criticism. "You can learn a lot from Intel," says Frohman. "The Israel center's capacity for survival stems from the linking of R&D and production. At Google and Yahoo! in Israel, it's all R&D. I don't belittle this, but when you link it with it production, you get something else. This is our weakness in Israel, there's an entire industry which is missing something."

You mention Google and Yahoo! What is your view on what's happening in the Internet world today?

"Internet will reach saturation within a decade. It is a field just like any other. Components have reached saturation, computers are almost there - nothing keeps on growing indefinitely. It might take five years, and it might take ten, but the Internet will reach this as well."

What advice would you give the industry in Israel?

"Don't put all the eggs in one basket. You need to create assertiveness, by looking, for instance, at the entire issue of biotechnology, and the environment, rather than focusing solely on the Internet. If we do this in time, we can really go places. We should avoid finding ourselves in a situation where our high-tech is in difficulties because it is focused in the relatively narrow field of Internet."

Full of prophecies

In recent times, making doom laden prophecies about technology in Israel has become a national sport. One such comment came from Yehuda Zisapel, chairman of the Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries Ltd., who said that Israeli high-tech had lost the ability to compete with its US counterpart, and that the gap created between the two industries would result in Israeli companies losing most of their market to overseas competition.

Frohman has a quite a few predictions of his own. In the past, he always held the optimistic belief that even if Intel does run into trouble, the center in Israel will be the last to survive. Fast forward to today, he says that high-tech is an engine for the Israeli economy, but in terms of the effect it has had on the working population its share is low. Theres a tremendous gap, and it will cause social unrest. In addition, our success is built on an education system from 25 years ago that has not been invested in, so we will suddenly see a drop in superiority.

Frohman also considers the political arena an interwoven element. We need a peace process. Im sure it is now more important to us than it is to the Palestinians. Its true that weve developed a fairly stable system over the last 35 years, but we have a highly problematic set of factors here. That we managed to cope in the past does not mean we will always be successful.

Frohman has good reason to bemoan the state of Israels society, politics and industry. He longs to bring about change but doesnt yet know how. He is wary of entering politics because of the Israeli apathy, and is now planning to build a school in the Negev to foster another way of thinking. The first step was to publish the book. And what will be next? Im still looking, he acknowledges with a smile.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 18, 2008

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2008

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