Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - January 1, 2010

Frank Greene, Silicon Valley technology pioneer, dies

Chip designer, CEO and activist inducted into Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame

Frank S. Greene, a pioneering Silicon Valley technologist, died unexpectedly Saturday at El Camino Hospital. He was 71.

Greene stood among technology giants Robert Noyce, David Packard, William Hewlett and the Varian brothers as one of 63 inductees into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, conferred by the Silicon Valley Engineering Council.

He was also hailed as one of the first black technologists, breaking the color barrier in local industry.

He developed high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs in the 1960s. He started two technology companies and later founded NewVista Capital, a venture firm with a special focus on minority- and female-headed firms. Its headquarters, now in Sunnyvale, were previously located in Mountain View and Palo Alto.

Greene also launched the GO-Positive Foundation, which offers leadership programs with "core positive values" for high school and college students.

"Success in life is not about 'me' but about what you can do to help others," he told the Palo Alto Weekly earlier this year when he was honored as one of the 50 most important African-Americans in technology in an exhibit at Palo Alto City Hall.

Greene grew up in the highly segregated St. Louis of the 1950s, where "making it through life was a civil-rights activity in itself," he said.

When Washington University opened up to people of color, Greene said the top 10 to 15 percent of students from his high school received scholarships. He was in the second class that included black students at the university.

"We went to sit-ins to see if we could integrate some places around the school. We would sit there until the cops closed the place."

One time, Greene and his friends went to a pizza joint, where the owners were willing to serve them.

"The problem was that between us we didn't have enough money for one order, so from that day, I've always said, 'You have to be prepared for opportunity when it arrives. ... You've got to be prepared for success.' We weren't expecting to succeed, so we didn't take any money."

Greene said his technology career grew out of being in the right place at the right time.

"When (the Soviet satellite) Sputnik launched, we felt we'd be attacked from space. There was a big call to teach science, and I got a job to teach physical science," he said.

Greene was the first black cadet to make it through the four-year U.S. Air Force ROTC program in 1961. He became an Air Force captain.

Armed with a master's degree from Purdue University, he started as a test engineer at Fairchild then moved into research and development in chip design.

Greene holds the patent for the integrated circuit that made Fairchild a semiconductor leader in the late 1960s.

He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from Santa Clara University and taught electrical engineering and computer science at five universities: Howard University, Santa Clara, Stanford University, Northwestern University and Washington University at St. Louis.

He founded two software companies, Technology Development Corp., which went public in 1985, and ZeroOne Systems Inc., which was sold to Sterling Software.

He sat on the boards of many technology start-ups as well as of Santa Clara University. He was past chairman of the board of the American Musical Theatre of San Jose and a board member of the National Conference of Community and Justice.

More recently, Greene laid out some of his ideas about leadership in his "VRE Leadership" workbooks, standing for "Vision," "Relationships" and "Execute."

"All successful leaders meet their challenges by starting with a clear vision that creates value for others," he said last year in an interview with author Tom Marcoux.

"They get everyone working together through positive relationships, and they execute at a very high level by making smart decisions."

A "celebration of life" for Greene, a Sunnyvale resident, is being planned, a family member said Monday. Details will be available later this week.

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