Masters of Leadership: Lisa Su

AMD’s president and CEO discusses the importance of collaboration and nimbleness as the technology sector looks ahead.

By Mark Toner

From studies on transmission science to research on vaccines, AMD President and CEO Dr. Lisa Su stressed the vital role technology is playing in addressing the global coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, urging others in the sector to work together on common goals.

“I’m really excited about what computing can to do accelerate solutions to some of these problems,” Su said as part of the Masters in Leadership series, sponsored by NVTC and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). “I think it’s brought out the best in everybody because we’re all aligned on this common goal. Whether you’re a partner, a competitor, an acquaintance, or just someone in the community, this is our opportunity to help each other.”

AMD has donated supercomputer clusters to several universities focused on research. Company leaders also have participated in a White House task force on supercomputing and a Silicon Valley council focused on reopening the technology industry, Su said during the June 2 event, which was moderated by CTA president and CEO, bestselling author and NVTC board member Gary Shapiro.  

`The Power of Bringing People Together’

During the Masters of Leadership event, Su shared lessons learned over her career and AMD’s half-century history of leadership in the technology space. One key to success, she said, has been developing processes that galvanize teams to focus on “the next 5 percent” of improvement or growth.

“What you can do as a single person is great, but what you can do when you bring 10 smart people together or 100 smart people together or 10,000 smart people together aligned on the vision is just incredible,” Lu said. “That’s how I got into building teams that can do seemingly impossible tasks around technology.”

As AMD employees begin returning to office settings, Su discussed what the “new normal” of work will look like. “We’ve now learned we can do a lot through all these virtual collaboration tools,” she said.  While some employees “will want more flexibility to work remotely,” Su said, she predicted that in-person collaboration will continue. 

“I think human beings enjoy being together,” she said. “Our philosophy has been to leave it to the employee to decide what makes them comfortable. Our job is to create an environment that’s very safe and also very flexible.”

Recently recognized as the first female CEO to top an annual survey of compensation conducted by the Associated Press, Su credited the technology sector for judging leaders on clear metrics and being “cognizant” of the importance of providing opportunities such as mentoring. But she acknowledged that more needs to be done.

“When you look at the diversity aspect, clearly we haven’t done enough. As much progress as there has been, there’s still not enough women and underrepresented minorities in leadership positions, and I really believe that’s because the opportunities have not necessarily been presented,” she said. “That is more work for us to do.”

Taking the ‘Right Risks’

“At the end of the day I love building things and pushing the envelope on technology,” Su said.  She discussed three important markets for AMD and the semiconductor space—PCs, data centers, and gaming, all of which will require more computing horsepower.  

“We are an innovation leader, and we have to take the right risks,” Su said. “It’s about big bets, but also knowing what you’re really good at.”

Su outlined advances in semiconductor development, the current debate over domestic manufacturing, and the challenges facing the industry moving forward. But she also stressed the importance of putting processes in place that allow leaders to monitor and respond in times of rapid change. 

“If I think of the past few months and what’s on the mind of my peers, the world is changing very quickly,” she said. “The best we can do is make sure we have good signals about the medical and health situation as well as our employees and customers… and make adjustments as necessary. We’re not going to predict the next five years, but we set very ambitious goals and are making sure we’re optimizing what we’re seeing in the market on a very active basis.”

The future Masters of Leadership guest speakers and recordings of previous interviews can be found here


Mark Toner is a Reston-based technology writer.