A $1 Trillion Leadership Style

How Jensen Huang Runs Nvidia

Hello to every unicorn in the galaxy.

The first time I had to manage someone I panicked.

I spent the night before sweating and terrified, unable to sleep.

I had no idea what management or leadership meant or how to be a “boss”.

I wanted to quit.

But I showed up anyway and many years later I have a lot of experience managing teams in a startup environment.

But the reality was…

I sucked at managing for a really long time.

One of the most valuable experiences for me was working with an executive coach who helped me find clarity around my leadership style.

I recently saw a post on social of an interview with Jensen Huang, the co-founder and CEO of Nvidia.

This guy started a graphics processing unit company 30 years ago and now Nvidia powers much of the AI industry. The company recently exceeded $1 trillion in market cap.

What’s cool about this interview is that the principles Jensen uses to manage Nvidia are the same principles that you or I can use today, at any stage of our career or startup’s lifecycle.

5 of Jensen Huang’s leadership principles:

  1. Learn continuously

  2. Be direct

  3. Share information freely

  4. Build from first principles

  5. Strategy is what you do

Scroll to the end for the full video.

Today’s growth strategy is Trillion Dollar Leadership.

Growth stage: Any

Difficulty level: Hard

Learn Continuously

“I dedicate myself a lot to being a good student.”

Huang on staying current

Great businesses make accurate predictions about where their industries are headed.

Staying current is critical to predicting what’s going to matter for your business in the future.

For marketers and technologists, there’s always more to learn.

One of the saddest types to me is the person who doesn’t seek out new knowledge and skills.

This generally happens for two reasons:

1) They are incurious. These people won’t seek out novel solutions, challenge their assumptions or learn new skills easily.

2) They have fixed mindsets. They think people are either good or not good at stuff, and can’t stand sucking at something for long enough to get good at it.

These types don’t produce great leaders because they will run out of ideas to advance the business, or they make bad bets.

With the evolution of A.I. affecting almost everything, now’s the time to be a student and pay attention to where your industry is headed.

The absence of continuous learning is also a huge red flag as you build your teams.

Be Direct

“If something’s happening at work and I don’t like its direction, I’ll just say it.”

Huang on being direct

In a world where nothing is shocking, it’s surprising how many managers have a hard time talking directly.

Instead they settle for mediocrity and a room full of elephants.

In my experience, good employees value the truth because they want to get better.

Calling out shortcomings and coaching your people on how to overcome them develops trust.

It shows you trust them enough to be real with them and that ultimately you’re looking out for their best interest.

But you have to do it with care, empathy and constructive intent.

Share Information Freely

“If there’s a strategic direction, why do you tell one person? You tell everybody.”

Huang on sharing strategy

In hierarchical companies, information trickles down from the top.

Junior employees are left speculating about what’s going on.

In my experience, it’s a natural, selfish tendency to want to hoard information.

Being “in the know” gratifies the ego.

But if you want the most out of your team, they should be well informed.

Everyone should know the goals.

Everyone should understand the strategy.

Everyone should be aware of setbacks and challenges.

As a result, everyone can then think about and debate how their specific roles can best contribute to the overall goals and strategy and defeat challenges.

Build From First Principles

“With respect to building a company…as with all problems, you start from first principles. What is this machine we’re trying to create, and what is its output?“

Huang on building a company

I like to take a step back when considering any endeavor and ask grounding questions such as:

What’s the point of this?

What are we trying to solve?

What’s the ideal outcome?

If we were to start over, what would the right approach be?

What are our biggest points of leverage here?

Approaching problems from first principles allows you to uncover novel solutions and consider dimensions that may not be apparent via an incremental approach.

Check out some of my other essays on first principles:

Strategy is What You Do

“Strategy is not words. Strategy is action. So if the company has a set of strategies, but people’s actions are not that, then they’re obviously not executing the strategy. The strategy, as it turns out, isn’t what I say, it’s what they do.”

Huang on strategy

If your strategy is A but you spend most of your time working on B, then A isn’t really your strategy.

Strategy is how you use your time, resources and brainpower to achieve a specific goal.

It’s easy as a manager or leader to get caught up in endless incremental meetings and check-ins.

These are poor substitutes for critical thinking and high leverage activities that directly move you closer to your goal.

Despite how “complex” my own job can seem, I know that the only things that matter for my role are customer satisfaction and profitability.

Those two occupy most of my thinking time and I periodically assess how well my “machine” is working to further those goals.

Jensen Huang’s Leadership and the Rise of Nvidia

Jensen Huang, co-founder and CEO of NVIDIA, is a badass.

With his signature black leather jacket and calm vision, Huang has sculpted NVIDIA from a startup into a global leader in GPU-driven computing, fundamentally reshaping the graphics, AI, and high-performance computing landscapes.

Born in Tainan City, Taiwan, in 1963, Huang's journey to Silicon Valley wasn't immediate. After moving to the U.S., his passion for electronics led him to earn a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University, followed by a master's from Stanford.

In 1993, alongside Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem, Huang co-founded NVIDIA. The name, derived from the Latin word "invidia", meaning "envy", encapsulates their dream for visual computing. They began by targeting the gaming market, a decision that showcased Huang's foresight into where the future of computing was headed.

Under Huang's leadership, NVIDIA's breakthrough came in 1999 with the introduction of the GeForce 256, recognized as the world's first Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). It wasn't just a product launch; it was a paradigm shift. By recognizing that graphics processing could be parallel rather than linear, Huang and his team revolutionized 3D graphics rendering.

Huang's vision for NVIDIA wasn't restricted to gaming. He perceived the GPU's potential in scientific computation and artificial intelligence. This vision led to the development of CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture), a parallel computing platform and API model. It's under Huang's guidance that NVIDIA transitioned from a graphics-focused company to a computing powerhouse. CUDA's capacity to leverage NVIDIA's GPUs made deep learning and AI models, which require massive parallel processing, viable and efficient.

Huang's leadership is characterized not just by his technological insights but by his strategic acumen. He championed NVIDIA's push into data centers, autonomous vehicles, and AI-driven technologies, resulting in partnerships with major tech giants and car manufacturers. Moreover, under his stewardship, NVIDIA acquired Mellanox Technologies in 2019 and pursued the acquisition of Arm in 2020, signifying NVIDIA's determination to be at the forefront of the global computing ecosystem.

Beyond strategy and innovation, Huang's leadership philosophy stands out. He values relentless execution and has cultivated a corporate culture that encourages risk-taking, innovation, and, most importantly, learning from failures. He often emphasizes the importance of collaborative teamwork and has ensured that NVIDIA remains a place where diverse talents converge to build the future.

In recognition of his exceptional leadership, Huang has amassed numerous accolades over the years. From being named in the list of "Businessperson of the Year" by Fortune to receiving the Robert N. Noyce Award from the Semiconductor Industry Association, these honors are a testament to his gigantic impact on the tech world.

Jensen Huang's journey with NVIDIA, from its inception to its evolution into a dominant force in the world of AI, graphics, and beyond, is a masterclass in visionary leadership. By constantly adapting, innovating, and anticipating the future's challenges and potentials, Huang has not only solidified NVIDIA's place in tech history but has also shaped the trajectory of computing for decades to come.

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