Lisa Su was born in the coastal city of Tainan, Taiwan, and came to the United States with her parents and brother when she was two years old. She developed an interest in technology early on, taking electronics apart as a child. Su’s mother, an accountant turned entrepreneur, and father, a statistician, gave her three career options: doctor, concert pianist, or engineer. The latter seemed like the logical choice. After graduating from New York City’s prestigious Bronx High School of Science, a public magnet school, she went on to study electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was at MIT that Su first became interested in semiconductors, the subject of her PhD research at MIT in the early 1990s.
Su began her career at Texas Instruments and then joined IBM, where she played a defining role as both an engineer and business leader during her 13 years with the company, rising to vice president of the Semiconductor Research and Development Center. She formed IBM’s Emerging Products group and helped transform industry standards by replacing the aluminum interconnects (at the time used almost universally in semiconductor chips) with copper ones, resulting in improved efficiency and performance outcomes. Su moved on to Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., serving as senior vice president and general manager for networking and multimedia.
In 2012, she joined Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a Silicon Valley semiconductor company, as senior vice president and general manager for its global business units, and was later promoted to chief operating officer. In 2014, she was named AMD president and CEO, the company’s first female leader, a rarity in America’s largest companies (only 5 percent of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women). When Su took over as president and CEO, AMD was struggling financially. She led its turnaround by expanding AMD’s focus from personal computer products into new areas, including gaming and artificial intelligence. Rising demand for AMD’s graphics and computer processors has accounted for the company’s renewed success. In 2018, AMD was the best performing stock in the S&P 500.
Su is a fellow of the National Academy of Engineering, and her honors include the NYSCI Distinguished Leadership Award. She was named “businessperson of the year” by Fortune magazine in 2018, and the next year made Harvard Business Review’s list of the 100 “best-performing CEOs in the world.” In 2020, Su was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
During the COVID-19 crisis, ADM has donated computing resources to researchers at New York University, MIT, and Rice University. Su explained: “High-performance computing technology plays a critical role in modern viral research, deepening our understanding of how specific viruses work and ultimately accelerating the development of potential therapeutics and vaccines.” Su is also cochair of the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable, which advises policymakers on overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic.