Lisa Su: The Woman Who Rejuvenated Global Tech Firm AMD

“AMD CEO Lisa Su 20130415.jpg” by AMD Global is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

When Dr. Lisa Su first joined the global tech firm, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), the company was struggling to keep afloat. But after being appointed CEO, Su quickly turned the company into one of the biggest tech firms in the world.

About Lisa Su

Su was born in Tainan, Taiwan to her father Chun-Hwai Su and her mother Sandy Lo. Around 3-years-old, Su and her parents immigrated to the United States.

According to an article in Sfgate.com, her parents had always pushed and supported Su in her education since a young age. Her father, a statistician, began quizzing Su on multiplication tables when she was 7. Meanwhile, her mother, an accountant, introduced her to the world of business concepts.

In the article, it also mentions that her parents really only gave her three career options: concert pianist, doctor or engineer. Obviously she chose engineering. After graduating high school, Su studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“I just had a great curiosity about how things worked,” Su said in the article. “Electrical engineering, particularly at MIT, was the hardest major, so I said, ‘You know, how about we try that and see how it goes.’”

Lisa Su’s Early Career

After graduating MIT with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, Su went on to work for Texas Instruments, International Business Machines (IBM) and Freescale Semiconductor.

While she was at IBM, she helped to make microchips run faster by using semiconductors with copper wiring to connect the millions of transistors in the chips rather than aluminum. The Sfgate.com article says that Su helped to create the “recipe” for those semiconductors.

Picture of one of IBM's chips
IBM 90×8941 VGA.jpg” by Darklanlan is licensed under CC BY 4.0 license

Then, in 2012, Su joined AMD as the general manager of global business units. In 2014, she became the CEO of AMD.

An Overview of AMD

AMD launched in 1969 as a Silicon Valley start-up with only a few dozen employees. According to AMD’s website, back then its main focus was on creating leading-edge semiconductor products.

Today, AMD has around 10,000 employees and more than 35 locations around the world.

“AMD today develops high-performance computing and visualization products to solve some of the world’s toughest and most interesting challenges,” AMD’s website says.

In an article by Patrick Moorhead in Forbes.com, AMD has also accomplished a few firsts in the tech industry. They were the first to develop an x86-based 64-bit processor, the first to develop an x86 dual-core processor and the first to develop a native quad-core x86 server processor.

They also launched the world’s first 7nm GPU in 2018. According to their website, this essentially improves performance and efficiency, and it can handle large data requirements better.

Before Su Became CEO

Unfortunately, an article by Hannah Martin in talented ladiesclub.com says that AMD wasn’t always so successful in the world of global tech.

In 2011 and 2012, AMD had to lay off almost 25 percent of its employees just to stay afloat. Their stock also lost more than 60 percent of its value.

In 2013, AMD was hiding in the shadows of the leaders Intel and NVIDIA. Their market share was at an all-time low because they focused too much on legacy PC products with diminishing returns. And they didn’t focus enough on the growing mobile and tablet industries.

Once Su Became CEO

Su’s first big decision, according to Martin, as CEO was to restructure the company. She created two distinct groups with clear focuses.

Martin says the first group is “dedicated to computing and graphics to provide PC platforms, consumer graphics, VR and workstation graphics.” The second group honed in on servers, gaming consoles, cloud gaming, system-on-a-chip products, networking, engineering, embedded CPUs and medical imaging devices.

Lisa Su holding an AMD chip
AMD CEO Lisa Su 20150603.jpg” by Gene Wang is licensed under CC BY 2.0 license

In short, Su wanted to simplify how AMD operated by expanding into new and upcoming technology. Also by focusing on investing in the right technology.

Speaking of investments, Su decided to invest in markets with an untapped high-margin and high-growth opportunity. One investment that succeeded was the Zen CPU architecture.

Within months of its launch in 2017, the Zen-based Ryzen CPUs helped the market share shoot up by just under 11 percent. From there, AMD’s market shares grew exponentially.

Now, AMD isn’t hidden in the shadows of Intel, rather battling it out with Intel as the better tech firm.

The Importance of Women like Lisa Su

Su is not just the first woman to run AMD, but she is just one of 37 women to run Fortune 500 companies. According to the Sfgate.com article, she is passionate about having more women in science and technology career fields.

She believes that supporting women as they study and find careers in science and technology will help keep women in these career fields.

“My feeling is, you can’t guarantee anybody a path in a certain place, but you can offer them the opportunity to prove themselves and to make an impact,” Su said in the article. “Those are things that we need to do.”

Su’s success as CEO of AMD helps to set an example and act as inspiration to young girls and women of color who wish to pursue a career in science or technology.

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