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High-Tech Consortium Enters Critical Phase With New Chief

July 06, 1987|DONNA K. H. WALTERS | Times Staff Writer

Grant Dove is officially moving into his new office today--the roomy digs set aside for the chairman of Microelectronics & Computer Technology Corp. But before he can really settle in, there's a picture he'll need hung.

The photograph, which for years startled visitors to this soft-spoken man's office at Texas Instruments in Dallas, shows a hawk perched upon a prickly cactus.

To Dove, who assumes his new position at the Austin, Tex., research consortium of high-technology companies, the photo's message is that "there has to be a certain amount of hawk in you if you're going to get tough decisions made," he said.

Dove may well need the reminder as he attempts to move the 4-year-old consortium into its next and probably most difficult phase: helping MCC's 20 shareholder companies reap commercial benefits from the consortium's research, finding ways to sustain ongoing research and developing a solid, expanded base for future projects.

MCC, originally billed as a major line of defense against the erosion of America's technological lead, is over the initial hurdles involved in bringing together and pooling resources of 20 independent and intensely competitive high-technology companies--the first venture of its kind. But it is still pioneering the process of distributing the results of its research to member companies in such a way that they can turn the research into production methods and products.

Dove, 59, said it was just that challenge that led him to end his 28-year career with Texas Instruments and take on the rather unenviable task of succeeding Bobby Ray Inman as the head of MCC. Inman, a retired admiral, former head of the National Security Agency and former deputy director of the CIA, was high-profile on the outside, while keeping the wraps tightly drawn over the inner processes. And as its first chairman and chief executive, he built MCC in his image.

On the other hand, Dove is a low-key kind of guy who said he will try to increase the openness about what MCC is doing. An engineer by training, Dove exercised easy-going management skills that earned him respect within the Texas Instruments organization, but did lead to the fast track at the company--which for many years had been known for its hard-driving, often autocratic executive style. Even though he rose to the level of executive vice president at TI, also a much-watched pioneer in high-technology, Dove was not well known outside a limited industry circle when MCC's directors gave him the nod in March.

But, Dove said, "I think I'm pretty well matched to what we need to do here in the next three to five years."

Uses Emotions

Dove said other people describe him as "a good listener. I try to approach a problem as an engineer does--work the alternatives and select the best. I may be soft-spoken, but I can and do use emotions when appropriate."

His listening skills already are being put to the test. In the past few months, while serving as a part-time consultant to MCC, he has begun to visit each of the 20 technology companies that currently support and staff MCC. Dove is meeting with various of the companies' executives, not only those responsible for determining support of MCC, but also the research and development directors and group executives--"the guys who have to take technology and turn it into bottom lines," he said.

A longtime Texan whose speech still reflects the genteel patterns of his native Virginia, Dove did not make a direct comparison between himself and Inman--who, insiders say, alienated some executives of MCC shareholder companies with his frank and sometimes public discussion of nagging issues. But the allusion was there as Dove said: "I think I will probably understand the language of these (corporate) people quite well. I may tend to be more responsive to what I'm hearing from them. I listen quite hard to what they say, because our long-term future depends on satisfying them."

In the meantime, there are short-term issues facing MCC. Already, several major companies have said they will drop out of the consortium at the end of this year or next. And when 1988 comes to a close, marking the end of the consortium's fifth year, many of the other shareholders will be re-evaluating their commitment.

Dove is also talking with the companies that are about to leave MCC, in hopes of convincing them to stay. It may be a hard sell, especially in the case of Allied-Signal, Unisys and General Electric (which is paring back its participation but not totally withdrawing) because those companies inherited MCC membership and doubled research facilities of their own through mergers.

"We don't have dire circumstances here. We will have 17 top companies with us through 1988," he said. But Dove also recognizes a need to continue the momentum of leading-edge technological research, and one of the ways to do that may be through an infusion of new blood. So he also is trying to drum up new members.

Admits Challenge

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