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AMD's CEO Says to Embrace Work Challenges

January 02, 2017 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:17 AM UTC

She believes they’re incredible opportunities.

Lisa, when you became CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, the company was really in big trouble. It was on the verge of bankruptcy. And a lot of people had their doubts of whether you could fix the problem. Here you were the first time being the CEO of a major company. How did you pull that off? You know, Suzy, I have to say, being CEO of AMD was my dream job. All right. I grew up as an engineer. I grew up as a semiconductor person, and running one of the largest semiconductor companies in the United States was my dream job. Now, yes, we had a lot of challenges. But I didn't focus necessarily on how hard life would be. I focused on the incredible opportunity I had in front of me. But the morale was kind of low when you took over. How did you encourage and inspire people to accept what you were planning to do? I think what people really enjoyed was understanding that we were here. We had a mission. And our mission was building great products, ensuring that our customers had the best technology, and really simplifying our company. And when you think about breaking down a problem set, I really believe that simplifying is how you get the solutions to the problem. It looks like you've created a culture of innovation at AMD since you took over. How have you encouraged leadership on all levels at the company, so that people take risks, try new things, rather than just playing it safe or doing it the way in the old days? I think the key to risk taking is really giving people permission to fail. It's really giving people permission to not worry about whether you exactly got it 100% right, but know that you got it directionally right. And really, reward those people who have really taken those risks. It's been said that in order to manage other people, a good leader has to know him or herself very well. Do you agree that knowing yourself is a prerequisite for being an effective leader? I do think that knowing yourself is really important. I think knowing what you're good at, and also knowing what you're not good at is very important, because it allows you to continue to grow as well. So what are you best at, and what are you not so good at? I would say that I think I'm a very good execution leader, very focused, very clear in what we want to get done. In terms of what I'm not as good at, I think there is something to be said that I'm naturally an introvert. I'm an engineer, and so it takes work to really communicate as a key priority. And I would say that, as CEO, that's probably the single biggest thing that I've changed, which is it is all about communication. It's all about motivating the 8500 people who work at AMD, versus the couple who are at the leadership level. Lisa, I'm sure you've had many mentors along the way who gave you advice, and I'm just wondering what is the best leadership advice that you've ever received? And why did it resonate with you and shape you as leader? The best advice that I ever got in my career was actually when I was a young engineer. I was two years into IBM. And one of my managers told me, Lisa, run towards problems. And I didn't really know what that meant. But what he was really trying to say is, in your career, you have many choices that you get to make, whether you do this or that. And if you're tackling really, really difficult problems, you will learn an incredible amount. You will grow as a person and as a leader, and you'll also have a chance to really distinguish yourselves from everybody else. And so, I've always thought about running towards the problem. And that's been successful for me.