In an event organized by Columbia Business School's Digital Future Initiative and the Silfen Leadership Series, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang visited CBS earlier this week to discuss the future of AI and his journey building a $1 trillion technology company.
In a conversation with CBS’s Dean Costis Maglaras, Huang shared insights and lessons from building the company he co-founded in 1993.
He emphasized the importance of thinking strategically, knowing your craft deeply, and making choices guided by passion and expertise instead of a need to supplant rivals. Huang also stressed the ability to endure pain and suffering on your journey.
“People who can suffer are ultimately the ones that are the most successful,” he said. “You should choose something that somehow you're destined to do — either a set of qualities about your personality or your expertise, or the people you're surrounded by, your scale, whatever your perspective, whatever you're somehow destined to do. [And] you better love working on that thing so much because, unless you do, the pain and suffering is going to be too great.”
“People who can suffer are ultimately the ones that are the most successful.”
NVIDIA chooses challenging problems it is uniquely positioned to solve, Huang said.
“The most important thing in life is choosing,” he said. “Our company chooses projects with one fundamental goal: to build an amazing environment for the best people in the world who want to pursue their life’s work.”
Since NVIDIA’s inception, Huang has served as the company’s president and CEO. He also sits on its board of directors.
Until recently, NVIDIA was best known for its leading role in the PC gaming market. For years, the company has held a commanding share in the market for discrete graphics processing units (GPUs), which have typically been used for heavy processing tasks like video editing and gaming.
Now, new markets have started to adopt NVIDIA’s GPUs to power their technology — most notably, the booming AI market. As more companies adopt AI, GPUs are becoming a tool in commerce, making NVIDIA and its computational technology a critical enabler of AI and therefore crucial to widespread AI adoption.
In his fireside chat with Dean Maglaras, Huang discussed the future of GPUs and their use in AI technology. He also shared details about NVIDIA’s history and business strategy as well as leadership lessons.
The following are some highlights from the conversation.
On NVIDIA’s history and business strategy:
Huang’s vision was to create a new form of accelerated computing specialized for graphics, not generic CPUs. This required solving major technology and market challenges.
Accelerated computing focuses on speeding up key applications. Unlike CPUs, which are for general use, NVIDIA targeted graphics, physics, simulation, and later AI. This strategic choice was key to creating a computing platform and fueling NVIDIA’s growth.
Gaming was the first “killer app” for NVIDIA’s graphics chips. Ultimately, AI and deep learning, which use the same accelerated computing architecture, became huge opportunities for the company.
Training AI models requires data center-scale computing with thousands of GPUs. NVIDIA recognized AI as a data center and hardware challenge early on. The company provides a full platform that includes GPUs, networking, and software.
Over the next decade, AI will enable new creative possibilities for consumers, in areas like design and website recommender engines. Huang said AI will not replace all jobs done by humans, but those who do not embrace it could be left behind: “AI is not going to take your job. The person who uses AI is going to take your job.”
“AI is not going to take your job. The person who uses AI is going to take your job.”
Drawing on his experience building NVIDIA, Huang stressed the importance of strategic thinking, mastering your craft, and pursuing your passions. Rather than compete directly with rivals, he advised identifying difficult problems your company is distinctively positioned and equipped to take on.
Huang encouraged CBS students to stay in school as long as possible to take advantage of learning opportunities, noting MBA skills like strategy and finance are key. But, he added, character and values matter most in leadership roles: “It turns out great success and greatness is all about character.”