In the semiconductor world, the new king of the hill, Jensen Huang, looks like an obsolete risk.
His company Nvidia’s agreement to pay $ 40 billion on Monday for chip designer Arm Holdings has threatened to spark backlash from arm customers who see the US firm as a rival.
“We’re not going to stand on anyone’s toes,” insists Mr. Huang – though it may not be the way the rest of the chip industry is. Critics also say they risked making their company a pawn in a technological war between the US and China, which another US chip company, Qualcomm, failed after the antitrust regulator failed to acquire $ 44 billion two years ago. Was followed by
Mr. Huang further said that this is a sign of how much the stake is. Nvidia was brought to the top of the chip industry through an unconventional route, believing that the deal could now help it become the dominant chip company of the artificial intelligence era.
Mr. Huang has already taken big steps towards that goal. The manufacturer of graphics chips, co-founded 27 years ago, has seen a 10-fold jump in its share price over the past four years, as its chips have become the main engines for training neural networks, which lie at heart Today’s artificial intelligence. The rally pushed Nvidia ahead of Intel in July and made it the world’s most valuable chip company, leaving Mr. Huang with a personal stake of $ 11.6 billion.
It led him to this position with a powerful idea, a strong technical background and a strong sense of industry realities.
“Vision is out of five to 10 years – he’s not talking about going to Mars or anything else,” says Tench Cox, a venture capitalist who has been a director of Nvidia since the company’s formation in 1993.
At a casual glance, the Nvidia chief sees flaming flames. He has a penchant for leather jackets and all-black attire, which he adopted more than a decade ago, at a time when Apple’s Steve Jobs in Silicon Valley was emitting more. On top of one arm, there is a tattoo based on Nvidia’s logo. And there is a love of flashy cars: he owns a pencil for Mercedes as well as two Ferraris and a Königsegg.
But it would be wrong to jump to conclusions about Mr. Huang’s personality. She has admitted that she was “crying like a baby” when she got pain from the tattoo, which she got when Nvidia’s share price was over $ 100 previously. One colleague says he likes cars because they are “cool”, not because he drives them fast, and another says that his day-to-day ride is a white Tesla Model S.
In short, Mr. Huang has all the hallmarks of hardworking Silicon Valley technocrats. Their days start at 4 am. He is said to enjoy a morning exercise session before going on a 14-hour day. The family is all: He met his wife, Lori, on a lab assignment the two shared in their first year as graduates. They have a son and a daughter.
His arrival in the US from Taiwan was traditional at the age of nine. His family spent money together to afford schooling for him and an older brother called him “America’s most affordable boarding school” – a Baptist school in rural Kentucky that had some characteristics of a reform school. He says that cleaning the bathroom daily for 150 boys was part of the deal. But he also says that he “loved every minute”, and calls it an early experience.
Mr. Huang pursued degrees in electrical engineering at Oregon State and Stanford Universities before leaving to start Nvidia at the age of 30 with two friends and worked as a chip designer. He still does not pay attention to Nvidia’s technical decisions. That means he has a clear understanding of “where the puck is going” in the chip world, says Rene Haas, who worked at Nvidia for seven years before becoming a top branch executive.
Mr. Huang has credited a singular insight for putting himself on top of a track. He says he looked for a technical challenge that was tough enough for an intensive research and development effort – something that would take the company to further success in the future.
The nascent video gaming industry fits the bill. “It could be one of the largest computer science industries in the world so far,” he says. They say that the data-intensive video processing and simulation needed to create the fictional gaming world requires the same computing resources required for scientific computing.
By remaining flexible, Nvidia evolves from a manufacturer of PC graphics cards, to a manufacturer of graphics processors called GPUs, which is a fairly crowded market. A major step came in 2007, when Nvidia created software to program GPUs for more general-purpose computing tasks. Mr. Huang’s move to broaden their use was widely discounted in the chip world at the time, but it has paid off with the rise of AI.
The ride of the ups and downs has given a high level of intellectual self-assurance. Two years ago, the bursting of the cryptocurrency bubble hit Nvidia hard, as demand for crypto “mining” computers increased. That’s why, says Mr. Huang, SoftBank’s vision fund – one of his biggest backers – sold out in 2019.
Mr. Huang blinked hard, saying nothing had changed in his company’s prospects. He was rewarded with rapid rebound in both trade and share price. SoftBank, as the owner of the arm, has now agreed to take a larger piece of Nvidia stock as part of the sale – effectively buying back at the company at a much higher price.
If Mr. Huang is feeling smug, he does a good job hiding it. He refers to SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s decision to sell out of Nvidia two years ago. “It makes sense, I forgive him. He redeems himself completely.
With the unwavering faith inherent behind all his big technological juggles, he says: “In five years’ time, we’re going to see it as one of the deals of this century.”