What do you call a man who, as a young Jewish engineer, managed to get a degree out of the Technical University of Berlin in 1937, during ascendant Nazism, fled Germany with a few bucks in his pocket, started a company in America and sold it to Sperry Corp., and still comes to work every day as chairman of the second company he founded 60 years ago?
You call him the 2007 EE Times ACE Awards Lifetime Achievement honoree. Eric Lidow, 94 years into a fascinating life as an engineer, a businessman, a green-engineering pioneer and a devotee of the arts, will be honored on April 3 at EE Times' third annual ACE Awards gala at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel, in conjunction with the Embedded Systems Conference.
The chairman of International Rectifier joins Gordon Moore of Intel and Wilf Corrigan of LSI Logic as Lifetime Achievement award winners. While both gentlemen remain active at a certain level, neither drives to work every day in a new hybrid Toyota Highlander and sits at his desk wearing a coat, a tie and a wry smile.
"I don't know why me, but I'm greatly honored," Lidow said last week over lunch near the beach in Los Angeles. "Moments like these also offer great opportunities to look ahead. We all must find ways to continue to innovate."
Stunningly, Lidow's biography (or autobiography) has never been written. I'm raising my hand to help out. His youth takes up a book of its own: Lithuanian student ends up in Hitler's Berlin in the mid-1930s, studying with the great minds of Europe. His roommate is Leon Trotsky's son. By 1937, things get grim and he leaves by boat from the port of Kiel after a harrowing detainment. He finds later that the treatment may have been due to the fact that Hitler and Mussolini were in Kiel that very day reviewing the German fleet.
In the United States, feet planted near sun-kissed Hollywood, Lidow co-founded and served as general manager of Selenium Corp. of America, acquired by Sperry in 1944. Lidow stayed on after the acquisition, serving as vice president of engineering until starting IR in 1947 with his father, who had recently made his way to America.
After navigating decades of technological change, Lidow had to figure out which of his two PhD sons, Alex or Derek, would take over the business. Alex now serves as IR's CEO and Derek is the founder and CEO of research firm iSuppli Corp.
Eric Lidow can wax eloquent on any subject, from art to green engineering to profit margins on Swiss watches. You can't spend time with him without coming away awed by the man and uplifted by the strength of the human spirit.