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|
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.
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.
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.