The rise of Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, born in Taiwan, raised in Kentucky and now one of the richest men on earth

By | February 22, 2024

Jensen Huang, CEO of chipmaker Nvidia, hailed as a once-in-a-generation tech visionary, can add another feather to his cap: He is the 24th richest man in the world. It’s hard to miss the news about his company, the semiconductor manufacturer that just leapfrogged Google in market capitalization.

The company’s shares are up 409% since last year. After the year-end numbers, Nvidia’s value rose by $250 billion in one day, surpassing Meta’s $197 billion increase from earlier this month as the biggest daily increase. When it announced its annual results on Wednesday, Nvidia crushed analyst expectations, setting off a frenzy among Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley analysts. Nvidia reported fourth-quarter 2023 revenue of $22.1 billion, about $1.7 billion more than expected.

Goldman Sachs just called Nvidia “the most important stock on earth.” But who is the man running the runaway trillion-dollar company in his signature leather motorcycle jacket?

The electrical engineer and former busboy

Huang, who turned 61 earlier this week, was born in Taiwan and was sent with his brother to live with an uncle in Tacoma at the age of 9. The following year, Huang moved again to rural Oneida, Kentucky, where he lived in a boys’ dormitory at the Oneida Baptist Institute – a religious reform academy that his uncle mistakenly believed was a boarding school.

Huang’s parents eventually joined him and his brother in the US, and the family settled outside Portland, Oregon, where Huang attended high school, played competitive tennis, and graduated two years early – at age 16. New Yorker profile from 2023, Huang briefly worked as a dishwasher at Denny’s. He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University and then a master’s degree in the same field from Stanford.

After working in tech for several years, including as a microprocessor designer, Huang founded Nvidia in 1993 at another roadside Denny’s in East San Jose, while he was eating, not serving. Huang was 30 at the time, and he and his co-founders, friends and fellow microchip designers Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem, had only $40,000 in the bank between them, but they were armed with a keen sense of what lay ahead in computing.

“We believed that this computer model could solve problems that general computing could not solve in principle,” Huang said Fortune in 2017. “We also noticed that video games were simultaneously one of the most computationally challenging problems and would have an incredibly high sales volume. These two conditions are not common. Video games were our killer app: a flywheel to reach big markets and fund massive R&D to solve massive computer problems.”

Nvidia quickly secured $20 million in venture capital funding, including from Sequoia Capital, and he is the rare tech founder who has remained steadily at the helm of his company since its inception. “I’ve been talking about the same story for 15 years,” Huang told reporter Andrew Nusca in 2017. “I hardly had to change my slides.”

Leadership philosophy

Huang’s approachability and decency likely contributed to his longevity at Nvidia. In 2010, Huang told the New York Times he defines good leaders based on authenticity. “They don’t dress like CEOs because they think that’s how CEOs dress. “They don’t talk like CEOs because that’s the way they think CEOs talk,” he said. “They don’t hold their meetings and expect people to treat them like CEOs because they think CEOs should be treated that way. They just are who they are.”

Nvidia’s business has been boosted by the AI ​​boom that has taken over the global tech industry. The company makes many of the crucial chips that provide the computing power needed to run the models that underpin AI tools. Nvidia is providing the building blocks for what some consider one of the most important developments in the history of technology – and joined the trillion-dollar club last June.

Nvidia’s historic stock rally is perhaps the prime example of the old investing adage that to make money in a gold rush, you have to sell shovels and pickaxes. Nvidia is especially fortunate in that it has a seemingly insurmountable lead over the other proverbial shovel makers.

Unique leadership style

Then there’s Huang himself. Per Fortune’According to the 2017 profile, the billionaire doesn’t even have a desk — let alone a corner office — instead choosing to wander around his building and work in any number of conference rooms he comes across. He also has a tattoo on a large arm that resembles his company’s logo, which he got in the mid-2000s after a challenge from his staff when the company’s stock price reached $100. (Tattoos and leather jackets are welcome at Nvidia’s offices, where staff tenure is unusually long and ties are close.)

Nvidia stock is approaching $800 these days, but don’t expect another tattoo from the formidable co-founder CEO. As he said Fortune‘s Nusca in 2017: when he received the company logo on his shoulder, he “cried like a baby.”

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com

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