Lisa Su, AMD CEO: Important Lessons to Be Learned on How She Brought AMD From Bankruptcy to The Top

The Editorial Team
  • The life of a CEO can feel glamorous to the outsiders. Millions of dollars in salary and bonus, and meeting the press or joining panel discussions; the heads of business today are nothing short of rock star celebrities.
Lisa Su, AMD CEO: Important Lessons to Be Learned on How She Brought AMD From Bankruptcy to The Top
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The key for us is always a multiple-year strategy, and a multiple-year strategy means great products, great customer relationships, and doing solid engineering. Lisa Su, AMD CEO

When Lisa Su joined AMD, it was a company on the road to bankruptcy. As the new CEO she immediately took charge and within a matter of few years she was able to turn the company around and make it one of the most hotly discussed topics in the business world. 

The life of a CEO can feel glamorous to the outsiders. Millions of dollars in salary and bonus, and meeting the press or joining panel discussions; the heads of business today are nothing short of rock star celebrities. However, it takes talent and hard work to reach the pinnacle of success, which is why only a few manage to grace the covers of magazines. 

Lisa loves technology. She is an engineer who has a PHD from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After a successful career in the tech space, when she got an opportunity to lead a company that was on the verge of collapse, she described it as her dream job.  

The joy of being a part of a company that builds products that people can buy off shelves was something that appealed to Lisa. Besides, she always wanted to be in the microprocessor manufacturing space. But, passion alone was not going to save a failing company. Here’s what you can learn from Lisa’s journey of turning AMD around. 

Clear Vision and Hard Work 

Lisa had a clear vision about the future of AMD and she was willing to work for it. She knew right away that she would not be able to produce any results immediately. Patience and the belief in the vision played a big role in the company’s turnaround story. 

CEOs today are forced to live quarter to quarter. Their fate and their bonuses are dependent on their quarterly performance, and Wall Street can be a very unforgiving place. This system can make business leaders myopic. Lisa’s approach was different. She planned for the long run. 

Lisa’s vision for the future was rock solid, but it was her ability to get everyone to believe in the same vision that made the difference. It takes iron will to believe in the vision and stick to it when the road can be plagued by distractions like self-doubt and uncertainty. Lisa was able to persevere and she was rewarded for it. 

Play To Your Strengths 

In order to win in the marketplace a company has to identify its strengths and focus most of its energies in that area. When Lisa joined AMD, she quickly realized that the company’s strength was building high-performance chips, which they were able to offer at a lower price than the competition. 

There are several other fields that are highly profitable and that have a promising future. Some of these fields include Internet of Things (IoT) and new technologies for cell phones. AMD was also involved in these areas, but Lisa decided that these things were outside the core competencies of the company and she decided to steer away from them to play to AMD’s strengths. 

By focusing on supercomputers, computer processors, and graphic cards for gaming; Lisa was playing to AMD’s strengths. Her vision was to be number one or number 2 in the world in whatever the company produces and she could only do that by identifying the DNA of the company.  

Communication Is Key 

Lisa was able to get everyone on AMD to align their efforts with the company’s vision through “extreme communication.” That means repeating the same message over and over until it sinks in. 

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What was Lisa’s message to her team? She explained to everyone that AMD is about the products, customers, and about simplifying everything that they do. She also reiterated the company’s strategy, so that everyone understood what AMD was doing and where it was headed. 

Win Customer’s Trust 

Turning a company around means getting all the employees to believe in the future, but that is not enough. You have to convince the customers too. The customers have to believe that the company has a future.  

In a hi-tech market, customers will buy from a company only if they are convinced that they are going to get upgrades and technical support in the near future. Thanks to Lisa’s efforts, the company was able to produce some of the best products in the world at competitive prices, but that was only half the battle. She had to convince the customers about the future by assuring them that AMD would be releasing new products and upgrades every year. 

When Lisa was able to deliver on her promise, the customers started to trust her. Today, AMD has the US Department of Energy as one of its customers and their supercomputer is being used at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a part of their nuclear deterrence efforts. 

The Essence of Lisa’s Strategy 

The strategy Lisa employed to turn AMD around can be boiled down to three things. First is to understand the core of the company and its strengths in relation to the market and the competition, second is having a clear vision for the future, and third is communicating the strategy to all the employees. 

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