AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. LISA SU, THE FIRST FEMALE ECO OF A MAJOR SEMI-CONDUCTOR COMPANY AND WHAT HER VIEWS ARE ON THE CURRENT CHIP SHORTAGE.
The race to design the most powerful computer processors is one of the most intense sports in the tech industry. When Dr. Lisa Su, an engineer by training, took over AMD in 2014 she not only became the first female CEO of a major semi-conductor company; she also kicked off one of the biggest transformations in industry history.
Turning a lagging maker of low-end chips into a juggernaut, known for its superior performance. Shares are up almost 2000% under her tenure, and AMD [advanced micro devices] chips are now embedded in everything from Microsoft’s Xbox to Sony’s PlayStation, Apple MacBooks to massive data centre machinery
Semiconductors never got that much glory until the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, when demand for chips shot up so much so fast it triggered an unprecedented global shortage raising alarms from Washington to Beijing. Joining us now to talk about when the chip shortage will end, how she turned the company around and what’s next for the massive semi-conductor company, AMD CEO Lisa Su:
Interviewer: You called 2020 an inflection point for AMD given the robust demand in everything from PCs to consoles, data centres and laptops. If 2020 was an inflection point, what is 2021?
Lisa: As we come into 2021, it seems that there is a megacycle for compute. If you have told me a couple of years ago if we would have had this kind of demand, I would have been surprised.
Interviewer: AMD chips are at the heart of PCs, Microsoft Xbox, Sony Playstation, all kinds of laptops, MacBook Pros, Amazon data centres so what are the new products is AMD targeting to meet this new demand
Lisa: AMD’s main focus is high performance computing, which are the brains of all the things we use on a daily basis, o when you are thinking about the next generating notebook as well as all the productivity you want, I hope you are thinking about AMD. Sony and Microsoft have recently released phenomenal products that are very exciting, and we are proud to be a part of. Then we have data centres, behind the scenes – all the digital transformations that are happening, our pivot from working in an office to working at home which all requires massive computing power from the back end.
Interviewer: How far in advance do you plan your products and how do you know you will have what the world wants by the time they are ready
Lisa: That is in fact one of the most difficult things we face as well as the most fun. We have to think 3 – 5 years in advance, its about providing higher levels of performance in smaller form factors, extended battery lives, new experiences and enabling companies to do something they could not do before. 2020 taught us that we could turn on a dime and we have been actively working with our customers to find out what they’re top priorities are.
Interviewer: Talking to chip manufacturers for some months, it seems to be a disaster with demand rapidly outstripping supply
Lisa: I would not call it a disaster but rather a cycle, semi-conductors do go through these cycles when demand is bigger than supply and visa versa. This particular cycle is special as we not just seeing demand for a particular kind of product but all things that require chips and yes it can be a lot to manage but I have to tell you that this industry is really good at managing these things. It can take a while for the supply and demand imbalances to blanace itself out, but we are very much working together as an industry to reach an equilibrium.
Interviewer: Once this shortage ends, what will happen next, will supply begin to outstrip demand?
Lisa: As cycles go, you do go through ups and downs but with our strong portfolio of products in a market that is only growing upwards we believe we can be on the right side of these cycles as we execute along the way.
Interviewer: AMD is one of several companies that has sent a letter to President Biden urging him to include more funding for chip manufacturers and research in the United States. Its competition with China, its competition with Taiwan that is at stake. What do you think the US needs to do
Lisa: We believe the US is the leader in semi-conductors and we want to stay as the leader of this industry. There is a discussion about manufacturing and making sure there is a good balance of this around the world which raised the level of importance for semi-conductors and we think its great that the administration is chosing this industries as a top priority
Interviewer: AMD chose Taiwan semi-conductor to make their chips. Is there something about Taiwan, what is the reason for such a prolific industry there, is there something about the island
Lisa: We are very happy with our partnership with Taiwan Semi-conductor, they are the best in the industry. We think our designing expertise is the best and we think they are the best manufacturers of chips, so when we merge both we believe the best product is created. The key is investing in that long term nature and ensuring that you have the right specialities for this industry as it does take double digit billions to push the boundaries.
Interviewer: Meantime, you have many trillion dollar companies – Apple, Google, Amazon bringing their chip designs in house. Does this feel like competition to AMD
Lisa: We look at it slightly different, we view it as the importance of computing in all products is just constantly increasing, there will also be some form of specialisation [from these massive companies] of their chips. That being the case, we believe our role is to continue to push the envelope on computing and continue to raise the performance for all applications.
Interviewer: Then of course we have Intel and Nvidia also with a pool of massive resources. Intel’s new CEO, Patrick Gelsinger, who has been coming out strong saying Intel is back. How do you view this competition
Lisa: It has always been very competitive; I do not remember a time in this industry where it has not been competitive. What I will say is I am really pleased with what we have been able to accomplish, it is fun to say that we have lead this evolution in computing and looking at what we have done in last five years, we have really changed what people expect from high performance computing. It is a competitive world and we will continue to be competitive.
Interviewer: Nvidia is in the process of buying ARM, do you see more consolidation in this industry, or do you think we have reached a tipping point.
Lisa: Well, I think for the highest end of technology, scale is important. When you have more engineering capabilities, a larger supplier chain and more impact on innovation, scale is a must. We are very excited to be in the process of acquiring Xilinx who are number one in the FPGA [FPGA, a field-programmable gate array is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing – hence the term “field-programmable”] and accelerated computing. As we think about merging that with AMD’s technology, we would be able to offer better capabilities for our customers. I do not think consolidation is a trend in the industry, but AMD is always looking for ways to bring the best levels of technology under its umbrella.