All month long we have been celebrating the greatness and legacies of some of our most important figures in Black History. February marks a month-long celebration of honor folks in the African-American community who have made a difference and a significant impact on the world, not only the community. Today we take a moment to shine a spotlight on Frank Greene, one of the first black technologists, breaking the color barrier in local industry. Mr. Green passed away in 2009, but he is quite an important figure in Black History as one of 63 inductees into the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, conferred by the Silicon Valley Engineering Council.
Frank Greene grew up in highly segregated St. Louis of the 1950s where he was quoted as saying “making it through life was a civil-rights activity in itself.” Green was in the second class of black students at Washington University and was involved in sit-ins and much more. He stated “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.” He spoke about a time he and his friends visited a pizza joint where the owners would serve them. He stated: “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.” His technology career started by being in the right place at the right time and after being the first black cadet to make it through the four-year U.S. Air Force ROTC program in 1961, he would become an Air Force Captain.
His career in technology grew and then in the 1960’s he developed high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs before starting two companies and a venture firm with a special focus on minority- and female-headed firms known as NewVista Capital. He also launched the GO-Positive Foundation which provides leadership programs with “core positive values” for high school and college students. His patent for the integrated circuit made Fairchild a semiconductor leader in the late 1960s while he eventually went on to earn his doctorate in electrical engineering from Santa Clara University. He then went on to teach electrical engineering and computer science at five universities including Howard University, Santa Clara, Stanford University, Northwestern University and Washington University at St. Louis. If that was not enough for one lifetime, he also sat on the boards of many technology start-ups, was the 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. His ideas about leadership in his “VRE Leadership” workbooks are incredible, and he teaches lessons for both life and business.
Frank Greene blazed a path for in the world of technology and science in the African-American community and held a number of unrivaled accolades. He once stated in an interview with author Tom Marcoux that “All successful leaders meet their challenges by starting with a clear vision that creates value for others” adding “They get everyone working together through positive relationships, and they execute at a very high level by making smart decisions.” This is a lesson we can all learn from, in life and work. Celebrate the greatness that is Frank Greene!