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What it’s like to be 1 of 3 women leading a Fortune 500 tech company

April 21, 2020, 12:43 PM UTC
AMD CEO Lisa Su speaking at the 2018 Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen.
AMD CEO Lisa Su speaking at the 2018 Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen.
Michael Faas/Fortune

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! New Zealand will ease its lockdown restrictions, street harassment persists, even during a pandemic, and we talk to the rare woman leading a Fortune 500 tech company. Have a productive Tuesday. 

– Sitting down with Su. If you’re a regular reader, you have certainly heard us bemoan the small number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 (that total now stands at 35). But the number is even more alarming when you narrow it down to those leading technology companies—three.

Lisa Su, an engineer with a PhD from MIT, who leads chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, represents one third of that total. For Fortune‘s most recent issue, Su sat down with our colleague Aaron Pressman (co-author of the delightful tech newsletter Data Sheet) to talk about how she managed to turn the once-floundering company around, why she believes AMD’s sweet spot is in powering high performance applications like supercomputing, A.I., and gaming, and what the heck an exaflop is (spoiler: it’s computing 1 quintillion floating point calculations per second—or a 1 followed by 18 zeros.)

She also addresses her status as the rare woman to head a major tech player, stressing the need to give women more opportunities in the industry and to push for more gender diversity in technical leadership. That said, she doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of running—and staffing—a Fortune 500 technology company: “At the end of the day it’s always about, Let’s get the best person in the job,” says Su.

And because there is no such thing as a business that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic, Aaron talked to Su about logistics of pivoting 10,000 employees to a work-from-home model and guarding a global supply chain against the coronavirus-imposed chaos that’s rocking so many tech and manufacturing companies.

For Su, it’s meant making sure AMD is resilient enough to weather this crisis—and hopefully, the next one too:

“It’s having redundancy in your supply chain. It’s having redundancy in your engineering teams. It’s building the notion of, hey, you have your contingency plans as things change,” she says. “And, in some sense, it’s building a company that can withstand lots of different things related to the environment we’re operating in.”

Read Aaron’s full interview—edited by yours truly!—here.

Finally, if you’re interested in getting a more behind-the-scenes look at covering business in the age of the coronavirus, I’d invite you to tune in to a Zoom call this Wednesday at 1 pm ET. Fortune‘s Erika Fry and Adam Lashinsky will talk about how Seattle (the focus of Erika’s latest story), San Francisco (Adam’s home and the subject of his February feature), and the tech communities of both cities have attempted to address the pandemic. You can join the call here. See you there!

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Leading ladies. As New Zealand plans to ease its lockdown next week—after seeing the results of its early action—some wonder: is Jacinda Ardern the most effective leader on the planet? Taiwan's President President Tsai Ing-wen and Sint Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs also get a close look here. It's worth watching Jacobs's address to her citizens: "Simply. Stop. Moving. If you do not have the type of bread you like in your house, eat crackers. If you do not have bread, eat cereal, eat oats, sardines.”

- Winging it.Wall Street Journal outlines more of the troubles facing The Wing in recent months—before and amid the pandemic. One new report: a front desk receptionist was told she was ineligible for paid maternity leave because she hadn't signed up for short-term disability as part of her insurance plan. Shortly after, CEO Audrey Gelman appeared on the cover of Inc. during her own pregnancy. The Wing says all employees now receive 14 weeks paid maternity leave. Wall Street Journal

- Fisher's advice. On today's episode of the podcast Leadership NextFortune CEO Alan Murray talks to Eileen Fisher, founder of the eponymous clothing brand. Fisher tells us about working her way through college—her dad would only pay for her brother's education—and starting a company with no idea how to do it. Listen here: Fortune

- Tune in. And for more listening, check out the podcast Voices of Resilience from the nonprofit Vital Voices. Women—from small-business owners like makeup artist Takia Ross to nurse Beemnet Taye—share leadership lessons during the pandemic. Vital Voices

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Banking and asset management vet Elena Bittante joins the board of Axyon AI. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Not the time, guys. What could make street harassment even worse than usual? When it happens during your one daily trip outside during a pandemic! Some women in the U.K. have noticed an uptick in catcalling, speculating that emptier streets mean they're more likely to be singled out. HuffPost 

- Jobs report. The latest installments of Fortune's series "The Coronavirus Economy" feature Mary Beech, new CEO of the shoe brand Sarah Flint, and LaToya Gaines, a New York clinical psychologist. Beech, former Kate Spade CMO, talks about transitioning a team to remote work when you've only been in charge for three weeks, while Gaines is helping her clients cope with the pressures of the pandemic. 

- Neighbor to neighbor. During the pandemic, users have flocked to Nextdoor to coordinate everything from grocery delivery to cheering for health care workers. CEO Sarah Friar—or "chief neighbor," as her LinkedIn profile identifies her—is tasked with continuing to monetize that flurry of activity. Financial Times

ON MY RADAR

'Planning' your pregnancy has never been more of a myth Glamour

Brittany Howard's transformation The New Yorker

Harry and Meghan will no longer deal with major British tabloids CNBC

Is it unethical to get pregnant right now? Advice for the coronavirus era BuzzFeed

PARTING WORDS

"I live in a world of perpetual tradeoffs. I can no longer operate at 100% capacity like I’m used to as a CEO, as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a colleague."

-Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud on running the company during the pandemic