Industryweek 2496 Sandersjerry4
Industryweek 2496 Sandersjerry4
Industryweek 2496 Sandersjerry4
Industryweek 2496 Sandersjerry4
Industryweek 2496 Sandersjerry4

A Rags-to-Riches Manufacturing Story

May 26, 2011
Five questions with AMD co-founder Jerry Sanders

If ever there were a manufacturing biography just begging to be turned into a movie script, it's the Jerry Sanders story.

Sanders, the retired CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) (IW 500/157), helped launch the company in 1969 and built it into one of the largest microprocessor manufacturers in the world. He is considered one of the founding fathers of Silicon Valley, and has a reputation for flamboyance and being fond of the finer things in life -- such as his Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Benton and Aston Martin.

But Sanders' journey to the top was a bit of a rollercoaster. He was raised by his paternal grandparents on the south side of Chicago. When Sanders was 18, he was beaten within inches of his life -- and given last rites at Little Company of Mary Hospital -- after standing up for a friend who was being pummeled by a group of thugs. (The friend took off.)

W.J. "Jerry" Sanders III, principal founder and retired CEO of Advanced Micro Devices

When Sanders went to work at Fairchild Semiconductor as a sales engineer, he thought he was on a track to become CEO. Instead, he was fired because of his brash, outspoken style.

Then, when Sanders helped launch AMD in 1969, Innovation Magazine dubbed it "the least likely to succeed of the technology startups of the 68-69 timeframe," he remembers.

Sanders, a 2010 IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame inductee, reflected on his life and career during a recent interview with IndustryWeek.

Lessons Learned from Beating

IW: What did you learn from being brutally beaten at that party when you were 18?

JS: I learned two things. One, don't count on other people -- not my favorite part of learning. And the second thing I learned was loyalty, because a neighbor threw me in the trunk of his car and got me to a hospital, so I survived. ... Today there's very little loyalty [in business]. There's a lot of jumping around, which is why I made sure that AMD was people-first. Because I knew that was the only way we were going to keep great employees from just taking a job up the street, because there are so many opportunities in Silicon Valley.

'Least Likely to Succeed'

IW: How did the Fairchild firing and the "least-likely-to-succeed" label affect you at such an early stage of your career?

JS: Actually, it just fired me up. I just wanted to prove them wrong. I'm a very competitive guy -- or at least they tell me I was, I like to think of myself as mellower now -- but in any event we went from being the least likely to succeed to being a Fortune 500 company, and the world's second-largest producer of microprocessors. And the microprocessor, that's arguably one of the most important inventions of the 20th century.


IW: What is your legacy in semiconductor manufacturing?

JS: What I'd like to say there is I was the co-founder of the Semiconductor Industry Association, and the co-founder of the Semiconductor Research Corp. To me, my legacy is innovation. The fact that I was able to lead a company to become a major player is personally very rewarding -- no question about that -- financially as well as emotionally. But by having an association that can promote the wellbeing of this highly innovative industry -- that's what I'm proudest of.

'A True Believer'

IW: You have this reputation for being flamboyant. How do you view yourself?

JS: Exuberant. Excited. Enthusiastic. A true believer. There's no question that as engineers go, you'd have to classify me as flamboyant. I mean, engineers tend to be somewhat introverted, and not always the most adept in their social skills. ... And of course, what can I say? I probably dress better than the average bear.


IW: Your went from growing up in a tough Chicago neighborhood to becoming a legend in Silicon Valley. Your life is a rags-to-riches story, isn't it?

JS: My life has been sort of a chronicle of the American dream. Poor kid, oldest of 12 kids, divorced family, nearly beaten to death at 18, scholarship to [the University of Illinois], and on to captain of industry and now the Hall of Fame of IndustryWeek. It kind of blows me away, actually.

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