We celebrate a lot of electronics industry icons--the Sanderses, Corrigans, Moores et al of the 1960s. But one icon predates them all and he started a business about the time Shockley, Brattain and Bardeen invented the transistor.
Eric Lidow founded International Rectifier in 1947, after selling another company he had founded, Selenium Corp. of America, to Sperry Corp. That sale made him a millionaire in postwar terms, and he could have spent his time hobnobbing in Hollywood. But he didn't. He went back to work.
In retrospect, that drive makes sense for a young Jew who left Vilnius, Lithuania, for Nazi Germany, received his EE from the Technical University of Berlin in 1937 and whose diploma, I'm told, is studded with swastikas--not a real crowd-pleaser on the office wall. Somehow, Lidow made it to Kiel on the Baltic Sea in his bid to escape persecution, only to find that both Hitler and Mussolini were there reviewing the German fleet. He was delayed and questioned but ultimately found his way to Denmark aboard a boat that sailed right through the fleet.
He ended up in America with a few bucks in his pocket and the rest, as they say, is history. The story's been told before but it never gets old.
On a visit to International Rectifier a couple of weeks back, I inquired about Mr. Lidow, whose son Alex is CEO. "Oh, he comes to work every day. He's at lunch now, but if you want to meet him . . ."
If I want to meet him? What kind of question is that? A couple of hours later I walk into Eric Lidow's office, in one of the original cinder-block IR buildings just south of LAX. Dressed in coat and tie he rises sprightly from his desk to shake hands. "I am so pleased to meet you," he says. He stole my line.
His mind is tack-sharp, and his adoration of power management--the company's bread and butter--extends to hybrid vehicles. He just bought a new Toyota Highlander. He's had two or three hybrid or all-electric vehicles already. The Highlander gleams in the small parking lot outside his window. He's all over the technology, jabbing the air to make his points.
Finally, he picks up EE Times. "I used to really like one of your editors," he says. "George Rostky. A wonderful man who had the absolute worst jokes." He pegs the late Rostky the way he pegs technology.
At 93, he doesn't have to come to work--yet he does have to come to work. The mark of a true engineer.