Data from Goldman Sachs show that Asian Americans have an outsized influence on innovations. While Asians account for 7% of the US population, their ethnic group has received 19% of high-impact patent awards, 11% of doctoral degrees, and 10% of Noble Awards in the physical sciences. Asian Americans also make up 13% of workers in US STEM industries.
Despite this enormous influence, Goldman Sachs says Asian Americans are underrepresented in executive positions. It’s difficult to determine precisely why this has happened, but you can look to some of the Asian CEOs running Fortune 500 companies to find solutions. Below, you’ll find some of the most influential business leaders pushing technology to new heights.
Eric Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom
Eric Yuan was born in China and moved to the United States after hearing Bill Gates give a speech about Silicon Valley’s tech boom.
Yuan had advanced degrees in mathematics, engineering, and programming, but he didn’t speak much English. He had to apply for a visa nine times before he could move to California in 1997.
Yuan’s innovative ideas stood out immediately. WebEx (now WebEx by Cisco) hired him immediately to join its staff of just 20 engineers. When Cisco purchased WebEx, the company made him vice president of engineering.
Eric Yuan ended up leaving Cisco after it rejected his idea to develop a videoconferencing system that could work on a smartphone.
That was a mistake for Cisco. Yuan formed Zoom Video Communications and started working on the concept. The company went public in 2019, just before lockdowns forced people around the world to work from home. The IPO had already made him a billionaire.
Suddenly, Zoom became an essential tool for remote work. His wealth grew to $16.4 billion by the end of 2020.
Noting his influence on remote work and communications, Time named Yuan its 2020 Businessperson of the Year and included him on its list of 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
Jensen Huang, Co-founder, President, and CEO of Nvidia
With a net worth of $58.6 billion, Jensen Huang is by far the wealthiest person on this list.
Born in Taiwan, he moved to Thailand as a child and relocated to the United States when he was nine. Jensen excelled in school, enabling him to skip two years and graduate from high school when he was 16. He then earned degrees in electrical engineering from Oregon State University and Stanford University.
After earning a master’s degree from Stanford, Huang started designing microprocessors at LSI Logic and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). He started Nvidia when he was just 30 years.
Nvidia quickly became a global leader capable of producing graphics processing units, central processing units, and other components that support modern technologies like mobile computing and artificial intelligence. The company maintains its headquarters in California but manufactures many of its products in Taiwan.
Huang’s wealth grew rapidly in recent years. As demand for GPUs and other efficient processing units increased, Nvidia’s stock price skyrocketed. In 2019, shares typically sold for $30 to $40. Today, one share is worth around 20x those numbers.
Since Huang owns 3.6% of Nvidia’s stock, his wealth is closely tied to the company’s performance. Its success has made him one of the 25 richest people on the planet.
Lisa Su, President and CEO of AMD
Lisa Su, who is related to Jensen Huang according to the Chinese kinship system, was born in Taiwan and earned three degrees in electrical engineering from MIT.
Her engineering work has largely focused on creating more efficient semiconductor chips and silicon-on-insulator semiconductors. She began much of this work at Texas Instruments and IBM.
Other technical accomplishments have contributed to components used to power video game consoles and smartphones.
Su left IBM in 2007 to join Freescale Semiconductor as its CTO. She has been credited for preparing Freescale Semiconductor for its 2011 IPO.
She left shortly after the IPO and became general manager and senior VP at AMD. AMD promoted her to president and CEO in 2014.
Under her leadership, AMD developed the influential Ryzen line of multi-core microprocessors. Launching Ryzen helped AMD capture a total 11% of the CPU market share.
Lisa Su’s work has earned her multiple awards and honors, including:
- The IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal
- Technical Leadership Abie Award
- Spirit of Silicon Valley Lifetime Achievement Award
- Fortune Business Person of the Year
MIT recently named its new building dedicated to nanotechnology research after her.
Hock Tan, CEO of Broadcom
Hock Tan was born in Malaysia and moved to the US when he earned a scholarship to attend MIT, where he received two degrees in mechanical engineering. He later obtained an MBA from Harvard.
Tan mostly held finance positions during his early career. He worked in the finance departments at PepsiCo and General Motors until Commodore International Ltd asked him to become its Vice President of Finance.
He took his first CEO position at Integrated Circuit Systems. After Integrated Device Technology acquired the company, he became its chairman. He soon co-founded Avago, which merged with Broadcom. He became the CEO of Broadcom in 2006. Under his guidance, Broadcom has:
- Acquired several companies
- Moved its headquarters to the United States
- Embraced more software and cloud computing technologies
- Reached its highest stock price to date
Pradeep Sindhu, Founder and CEO of Fungible
Pradeep Sindhu completed an electrical engineering degree in India before moving to Hawaii to earn a Master’s in the field. He then relocated to Pittsburgh to study computer science at Carnegie Mellon under Bob Sproull.
Sindhu spent the first 11 years of his career working at Xerox PARC’s Computer Science Lab, where he built high-speed multiprocessors and integrated circuits.
Eventually, he decided that he wanted more control over the products he built, so he founded Juniper Networks with two friends. At Juniper, Sindhu created an innovative data router called the Juniper M40. He also worked on architecture and design projects for the company.
In 2015, Sindhu set out to form a private company, Fungible, that would build hardware and software specifically for data centers. He correctly saw that large server farms would play an essential role in technology as more services moved to the internet.
Fungible has created several unique products, including Data Processing Units that made data centers more modular.
Integrating the technology into existing server farms disassociated compute and storage elements that were previously intertwined. This change makes it possible for today’s data centers to adjust quickly to evolving conditions. The solution is so effective that Microsoft purchased Fungible in 2023 so it could improve its data centers.
Sindhu served as Fungible’s CEO from 2015 to 2021, when he handed the position to Eric Hayes.
Nikesh Arora, CEO of Palo Alto Networks
Nikesh Arora grew up attending school at an Indian air force base. He left to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, BHU.
From there, he moved to the US to attend Boston College, where he earned a Master’s in Electrical Engineering before completing an MS in Business Administration at Northeastern University.
This path gave him ample experience in engineering and finance, positioning him for his future career at SoftBank and Palo Alto Networks.
Arora became the president and CEO of SoftBank in 2014. The Japanese company paid him $200 million for two years of service, a record at the time.
Currently, Arora runs Palo Alto Networks, a multinational cybersecurity company founded by Nir Zuk in 2005. Nikesh Arora became the company’s CEO in 2018 and received reimbursement worth $128 million. Since he took Palo Also Networks’ helm, it has acquired numerous companies, including:
- Cider Security
- Talon Cyber Security
- Dig Security
These acquisitions have brought several innovative technologies under the Palo Alto Networks umbrella. Today, it offers a broad range of enterprise products for cloud security, network security, endpoint security, and other pressing matters.
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