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Longtime Intel exec Vadasz steps down

Leslie Vadasz is retiring as head of the venture arm at the chipmaker, where he led the design teams that helped develop the first DRAM chip.

Leslie Vadasz, employee No. 3 at Intel and head of the chipmaker's venture capital arm, is retiring as of June 1.

Vadasz, 66, led the Intel design teams that helped develop the first DRAM (dynamic random access memory), chip as well other innovations including Intel's first general purpose microprocessor. He also served as director of engineering and general manager of Intel's microcomputer component division. In his most recent assignment, Vadasz served as president of Intel Capital, the investment unit he helped establish in 1991.

The Hungarian-born Vadasz also served on Intel's board of directors from 1988 until the middle of last year, when he reached the board's mandatory retirement age. Vadasz worked at Fairchild Semiconductor before joining Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore in leaving the chip pioneer to start Intel.

Intel Chairman Andy Grove was hired by Noyce and Moore before Vadasz, however Vadasz's paperwork went through first making him employee No. 3. Grove stepped down as CEO in 1998, but remains head of the company's board of directors.

John Miner, who has been general manager of Intel Capital since last year, will take over Vadasz's responsibilities as head of the investment arm.

"Les Vadasz has been a source of innovation and strategic guidance throughout Intel's history," Intel CEO Craig Barrett said in a statement. "He is the ultimate engineer, with a knack for anticipating where the industry is headed and how to position us for success. Much of Intel's leadership position in the chip industry is the result of contributions Les has made."

Although Barrett gave Vadasz credit for many of Intel's key directional choices, Vadasz said that one thing he could not take credit for was the company's bold decision to exit the DRAM business it had basically created.

"Frankly, initially I couldn't understand why we would do that," he said in an interview. "It was really led by Andy Grove. Without his leadership on that we wouldn't have done it at that time."

Vadasz knew that the industry was on to something with the PC, but it wasn't until the software industry took off that he was convinced it would be a mainstream hit.

"To me the big 'a-ha' was when I saw packaged software. Before, (PCs) were just tinker-toy boxes," Vadasz said.

Although Vadasz moved around within Intel, he never really considered leaving the chipmaker. "I never thought about taking a job elsewhere," Vadasz said. "That was never an issue. The experience of building a company like Intel cannot be matched."

Still, when asked how to describe the company's early days, he says, "Hard, hard."

"We started with a brand new manufacturing technology," he said. "It was 'build it and they will come' mentality."

Of course they did come, and once Intel had hordes of cash, Vadasz was put in charge of investing it, looking to spur new markets for Intel's chips.

Vadasz said the strategy for investing at Intel remains the same--although the returns are certainly not what they were in the go-go days.

"It always has been (about) investing in a business that if it succeeds it can help our business," he said. Plus, Intel has made a few billion dollars in cash from its investments since the program started.

"This has been a very successful program for Intel and I expect it will continue to be," he said.