In the Midst of a Trade War, One Tech CEO Has a Message: Stay Agile

October 22, 2019, 4:21 PM UTC

The U.S.-China trade war is impacting businesses on all points of the spectrum, but perhaps none so much as the semiconductor space. And for CEOs like Advanced Micro Devices’ Lisa Su, the constant uncertainty is something executives like her are having to get used to.

“Every day we wake up and there could be something different that you’re addressing,” Su said onstage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. “The world is different today than it was four or five years ago.”

But while planning for changing market and customer conditions is something all CEOs face, AMD is particularly sensitive to trade tensions.

China makes up about 30% of AMD’s business, and this summer, AMD’s proposed joint venture with China back in 2016 to license tech and chips—known as Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment, or THATIC—was blacklisted by the U.S. government, stopping it in its tracks.

As a maker of some of the most powerful processors on the planet, Santa Clara, California-based AMD has been key in the conversation about what China should be able to do with U.S. technology. But given AMD’s business stake in the country, for Su, it’s a bit more complicated.

“There are certain aspects of our technology that are really, really special—and we should protect those really, really special things as much as possible, and then realize that for leadership in the U.S. markets, we still need access to the largest markets in the world,” she said, referencing the need for the U.S. to stay connected to Chinese markets. Su maintains that high tech is certainly a national security concern, but that access to big markets like China is crucial.

But as many companies face hard decisions when it comes to trade war-vulnerable parts of their businesses, As a result, Su says AMD needs to balance its long-term bets with the necessity of staying light on its feet.

“One of the things that I’m most focused on is ensuring that we are very agile as a company,” Su says. “The idea is, how can we make 10,000 people be able to turn on a dime as market conditions change and as customer needs change? … It’s an adjustment, but it’s an adjustment that we are very prepared to make.”

Instead, Su says the most important thing is to make sure AMD is “focused on our strengths, which are around high-performance computing.” 

Despite headwinds from China, Su’s mission seems to have been successful so far. After only five years on the job, Su has seen AMD’s stock shoot up over 60% year to date, becoming one of the best performers in the S&P 500—with revenue up 23% last year to boot.

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Summit:

—Retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally on why courage is just as important off the battlefield
—Female directors agree a “blunt instrument is necessary” to get women on boards
Susan Rice calls Trump “erratic and untruthful” and recounts Benghazi fallout
—Peloton’s CFO has “so much sympathy” for WeWork
—Social purpose is imperative for competitive hiring today, executives say
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