One of the most important leaders in tech today is Dr. Lisa Su, the CEO of AMD. She became CEO three years ago and has since made AMD a formidable competitor to Intel in the PC CPU space and a force to be reckoned with in server chips.
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At CES, I sat down with Dr. Su and asked her about her tenure as CEO thus far. If you follow AMD, you know it has dealt with some serious financial challenges. While it stabilized under former CEO Rory Read, AMD's strategy was muddled and the company often over-promised and under-delivered.
Dr. Su told me that when she first took over as CEO, her mantra was "don't worry about the financials. Just focus on delivering great products." At the strategic level, she worked with her teams to create a product roadmap that reflected future trends and coalesced around their core competencies. "Put all of your energy into building those products and concentrate on executing this visionary roadmap," she told them.
She also made an important strategic decision: "AMD would concentrate on being a high-performance computing company," which meant anything that did not meet this criteria would not pass muster with her.
One detour the company took during Read's leadership was pursuing what at the time seemed like a safe bet: developing a processor for tablets. Unfortunately, that market stalled, so under Dr. Su's guidance, all work is focused on high-performance computing, designs, and platforms.
One interesting observation she shared with me is that when she took over as CEO, the industry thinking was that demand for discrete graphics would decline and the graphics functions integrated into core CPUs would increase. But demand for discrete graphics chips and graphics cards is on the rise, driven by the higher demand for gaming PCs. In the near future, they will also be needed in PCs and laptops that support 4K and eventually 8K graphics screens.
One factoid from my research at Creative Strategies is that we are seeing more and more millennials move from consoles to high-performance gaming PCs in droves. This trend has helped AMD grow its market and, given the interest in higher-resolution screens, should help AMD drive greater sales.
Three of its most recent products have already had a huge impact on AMD's bottom line, and more importantly, helped it rise in stature and acceptance in the eyes of OEMs and business partners. AMD's EPYC server chips are world class in power and functionality. As Dr. Su told me, "the network guys are jumping in with two feet" to buy them and use them in their server operations.
Ryzen CPUs compete head on with Intel. In fact, I spoke with two of the top PC makers about AMD, and for the first time in many years, they were extremely bullish about the company's prospects. Add to that AMD's new Radeon Graphics chips and cards, and it now has a trifecta of products that are competitive and industry leading in their scope and reach.
Intel will always be the dominant player in PC CPUs and server chips, but AMD is now a worthy competitor. This type of competition is not only good for Intel in that it keeps it on its toes but it's also great for consumers, who now have powerful alternatives when they shop for PCs.
As an analyst, I have covered AMD since its early days and dealt often with their colorful founder, Dr. Jerry Sanders, while he was CEO. AMD has always had great potential, but the post-Sanders leadership took AMD on many bumpy rides. My sense is Dr. Su has now brought a great deal of vision and discipline to the company and has set it on a path for steady growth.