What are the odds the CEOs of two leading U.S. companies in a global industry are relatives from the same tiny city an ocean away? Yes, there are the Dassler brothers (personal conflicts between two shoemaker brothers in early 1900s Germany led to the creation of Adidas and Puma), but what if the family members barely knew each other growing up, moved overseas with families, pursued different career paths, and eventually found themselves at the helms of two top rivals in a booming business? That’s the unlikely story of Lisa Su, the CEO of chip giant AMD (AMD) (Advanced Micro Devices Inc.), and her counterpart at Nvidia (NVDA), Jensen Huang.
Su, 53, is a renowned electrical engineer and has been the CEO of AMD since 2014. Huang, 60, is the founder and CEO of Nvidia. They are both first-generation Americans from Tainan, a southern city in Taiwan with a population of 1.8 million as of 2019. Rumors that Su and Huang are related began circulating in the tech world in recent years as Huang’s profile (and fortune) rose with Nvidia’s booming semiconductor business.
In an interview during the 2020 CES, Su confirmed that she and Huang were “distant relatives. “Some complex second cousin type of thing,” she said. In fact, they might be closer than that. According to Huang’s family tree published by Wu Jia Jin, a family heritage expert in Taiwan, and widely cited in local media, Su’s mother, Sandy Lo, is a cousin of Huang. Lo and Huang have the same grandfather. In Western family relationship terms, Su and Huang could be described as first cousins once removed. They might not have known each other very well, since the family is pretty large. Huang’s grandfather (Su’s great-grandfather) had at least 12 children, according to Wu, and their offspring are scattered all around the world.
A shared passion for electrical engineering
Su’s family moved to the U.S. when she was three. Raised by parents who were statisticians and accountants, Su developed an interest in math early on and aspired to be an engineer when she was a kid. “I just had a great curiosity about how things worked,” she told SFGate in 2015. Su studied electrical engineering at MIT from 1986 to 1994 and obtained her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from the school. Her doctoral thesis was on silicon-on-insulator technology, a then-unproven technique for increasing efficiency in semiconductors.
After graduation, Su worked for several chipmakers, including Texas Instruments and IBM, for nearly two decades. She joined AMD in 2012 as a senior vice president and was appointed CEO in 2014. Su is often credited for diversifying AMD’s business away from personal computers into other segments like video gaming and embedded devices.
Before founding Nvidia in 1993, Huang worked as a chip designer for AMD but had no overlap with Su. Huang moved to the U.S. with his parent at age four and settled in Oregon. He has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University and later obtained a master’s in the same subject from Stanford University.
Huang made the early bet for Nvidia to focus on developing artificial intelligence chips, also known as A.I. processors, in the early 2010s. A.I. chips are more advanced than traditional semiconductors used in personal computers and are used to power heavy-duty computing required for training A.I. algorithms.
Huang is proven prescient as the A.I. boom took off late last year and sent Nvidia’s market value soaring. Nvidia is currently a clear market leader in A.I. chips and estimated to own 95 percent of the market of graphics processing units (GPUs), a popular type of A.I. chip.
Huang is estimated to be worth $36.8 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, making him one of the 40 richest people on Earth. Su, though not a billionaire tech founder, is the highest-paid female CEO in the U.S. Her 2022 compensation was valued at nearly $30 million.