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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Jensen Huang runs one of the hottest chipmakers, Nvidia, which he founded 25 years back. With a strong vision and relentless execution, this competitive entrepreneur turned his PC graphics company to the world leader in AI computing and machine learning. His ability to think in 10-year time horizons have taken him to great heights. He could envision the power of GPU in computing at a time when it was nothing but a science fiction. It took the advantage of being an early bird and worked towards creating what would become the best in the game. He believes that the next major application of artificial intelligence technology is the ability for artificial intelligence to write artificial intelligence by itself.

Early years...

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Jensen and his family moved to Thailand when he was a kid. Due to the violence and civil unrest in the country, his parents sent his 10 year old brother and 9 year old him to his relatives in US in mid-1970’s. They admitted him to Oneida Baptists Institute, a reform school in rural Kentucky, after mistaking it for a prep boarding school. It was a home for troubled teens.

Spending a year and a half with a bunch of juvenile delinquents taught him to be tough. The youngest of the inmates, he was assigned with the chore of cleaning all the bathrooms of the three-story boys' wing after school, everyday while his brother worked on the tobacco farm. With the help of the guy who came to fill the vending machines, he took up table tennis. He taught his 17-year-old illiterate, covered in tattoos and knife scars, dorm-mate to read.

Early career...

Jensen reunited with his family and moved to Oregon where he did his high schooling in Beaverton. It was in high school he was introduced to the wonder world of computers. He was fascinated by computer science, chip design and building microprocessors during his college days. After graduation, he moved to Silicon Valley. He was a microprocessor designer at Advanced Micro Devices, Inc for a year and later moved to San Jose chipmaker LSI Logic where he became the Director of Sales responsible for Sun Microsystems.

Founding...

During a Thanksgiving time, Jensen and his unsatisfied fellow electrical engineers from Sun Microsystems, Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem met at Denny’s restaurant and brainstormed about starting something on their own. Their discussion on next wave of computing led them to Nvidia. They had an idea that computer graphics were going to be the driving force of technology and its fuel would be video games. On his 30th birthday, Jensen set forth to turn his passion for computer design to a profession and cofounded Nvidia in 1993. Since they could not come up with a name, it did not have a name initially and the files were named as NV, as in ‘next version'. Chris is now a senior technology executive at the company and Jensen has been the president and CEO ever since.

Milestones...

Nvidia launched its first product, a multimedia card for personal computers called NV1, in 1995, which didn’t sell well. It had to lay off half of its employees as it resulted in huge loss and was on the verge of bankruptcy. The company nearly went out of business with wrong technology, market strategy, architecture and execution. In 1997, RIVA 128 or NV3, one of the first consumer graphics processing units to integrate 3D acceleration in addition to traditional 2D and video acceleration was launched. It was a raging success. The company was about to go public. But then Intel announced that they were going to build a graphics chip, resulting in a crash in Nvidia's sales.

It introduced GeForce 256, the world’s first graphics processing unit in 1999 and revolutionised the parallel computing. The company also had its IPO on the Nasdaq in the same year. The introduction of CUDA architecture in 2006 expanded Nvidia's chip market beyond gaming. By 2016, its annual revenue crossed $5 billion. In pace with fast annual profit growth at more than 50 percent, its stock price hit $200 in 2017 from $30 two years ago. To celebrate the milestone of $100, he tattooed an abstract version of the company’s logo on his hand. Today Nvidia’s GPU has the global presence and is used by the big names in the computer and cloud service market like Dell, Amazon Web Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Alibaba Cloud. Inspite of severe competition, the company owns 70 percent of the GPU industry. The company has grown much beyond gaming, to designing chips for data centers, augmented reality, cellphones and autonomous cars - from 3D vision to handheld devices to cloud servers to vehicles.

Personal life...

Jensen holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University. He married Lori Mills, who was his lab partner in electrical engineering fundamentals at Oregon State University. He considers their meeting as the most important, single event of OSU for him. The couple later moved to Silicon Valley. While working full time and raising their two kids, he also earned his Masters in electrical engineering at Stanford by enrolling for the part time program. Though it took him eight years to complete the Masters, he never gave up. He loved going to school and was infinitely patient about learning. He has an honorary doctorate from Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University and from Oregon State University.

Polishing the table tennis lessons he picked from the boarding school, he mastered the sport and became a nationally ranked junior table tennis champion. He was named in Sports Illustrated at the age of 14 and was placed third in juniors' doubles at 15 at the U.S Open. A generous philanthropist and an avid gamer, mathematics was his favourite subject and always wanted to do something in the field of analytics when he grows up.

Philanthropy...

Jensen and his wife actively contribute towards education, youth and STEM education through the Jen-Hsun & Lori Huang Foundation. He has generously given back to his alma mater. He has donated US$30 million to Stanford University to build a modern and sustainable destination for education and research, the Jen-Hsun Huang School of Engineering Center, and $2.5 million to Oregon State University towards the construction of Kelley Engineering Center. In 2008, they gave $5 million to build new laboratory space for cancer research in Oregon State University. They also work closely with AI4ALL, a national nonprofit working to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence. Silicon Valley Education Foundation honored him with Pioneer Business Leader Award for his work in both the corporate and philanthropic worlds in 2007.

Leadership style...

Jensen embraces the community and leads through encouragement and inquiry. An accessible CEO, he encourages open communication and doesn’t have an office and keeps moving around the office meeting his team. If there is any roadblock or missed goal, he would personally assist the team to determine the root cause of the issue and get it back on track. The ability to fall in love with something, take chances, make mistakes, and see the universe through the eyes of a child are the qualities he looks in someone when he is hiring and is intensely selective.

Awards and accolades...

Ranked #321 on Billionaires list of Forbes in 2018, #61 on Richest in Tech in 2017 and named as global game changers in 2016
Named Fortune's Businessperson of the Year in 2017
Ranked #3 by Harvard Business Review on its list of the world’s 100 best-performing CEOs
Named to the U.S. Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame when it was established in 2012
Listed as the 61st highest paid CEO in a list of U.S. CEOs by Forbes in 2008
Received the Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award from Fabless Semiconductor Association in 2003
National Finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2003
Named as the Entrepreneur of the Year in High Technology by Ernst and Young LLP in 1999

Quotes

The most important thing is to do important work — to do relevant work. Then you have to do it with the best of your might. If you do that, you’ll be surrounded by the world’s best at what they do, and then almost anything is possible.
Nobody is the boss. The project is the boss.
The tolerance to take risks naturally encompasses the ability to learn from failure.
I think that's what’s thrilling about leadership — when you’re holding onto literally the worst possible hand on the planet and you know you’re still going to win.
If you cannot fix a problem, change the problem so that you can find a solution for it. Break it down to as many small pieces as possible so that you can find the root cause.

Hope readers caught up the spark...

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