Erik Lidow: 1912 -2012 – An American entrepreneur’s 100 years

 

Erik Lidow 1912-2012 (with a painting of his father, Leon Lidow, with whom he founded IR)

On Sunday I attended the memorial service and reception for the passing of Erik Lidow, whose 100 years are a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of America.

Born in Lithuania (then a part of Russia), he arrived in the States in 1937 with an engineering degree from the Technical University of Berlin and $14 dollars in his pocket.  Ten years later, selling his first company’s stock ( started with a $2,000 loan), he built International Rectifier, the first (and the longest-enduring) power semi-conductor company, now in its 66th year.

Erik was a charming, outspoken man who loved to tell stories.  I remember our swapping tales of each of our adventures in China (his in the 1930′s, mine in the 1990′s) at a family dinner in 1999.  At his memorial service, his grown grandchildren told wonderful stories of their memories of him, and of lessons learned: many mentioned how Erik would challenge them to commit themselves to what the world needed for social and economic good.

I remember one holiday dinner when he extorted one of his grandsons (an engineering graduate), then 22, to devote his talents to building companies that would create employment for thousands of workers, and to build new products that would make a difference in the world.  Erik was never shy with his advice (and his grandson did just as Erik suggested).

Erik maintained his razor-sharp intelligence to his final days, going into work every day well into his 90′s.  He relished the challenges of the business, even during the difficult times.  He took his risks, both winning and losing, and persisted in his leadership through the years.

“I like to be in the forefront,” he explained (in his interview with Power Electronics Technology Magazine for its Lifetime Achievement award). “It means that our company is not a ‘me-too’ company. It affected our profitability in the past because we always wanted to be first. But then, we created an industry that didn’t exist.”

Erik welcomed his growing tribes of both family and employees.  His 100th birthday last December was celebrated by a family gathering, and by a company party.

Erik Lidow’s life and accomplishments, spanning the economic and technological changes of a century, show American entrepreneurialism in its most enduring light.

Goodnight, Erik, we will miss you.

For more ~

  • A fascinating company timeline for IR on its 60th anniversary (2007) with pictures
  • Erik’s lifetime achievement award from Power Electronics Technology (2004) - an in-depth review of his life and career with great stories.

 

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