Future Tech

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang says a gardener taught him one of the most ‘profound learnings’ of his life – it’s why he can be on top of every detail at the chip giant

Tan KW
Publish date: Tue, 18 Jun 2024, 06:57 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

Jensen Huang is known in Silicon Valley for his meticulous attention to detail, despite tech giant Nvidia growing to a market cap of more than US$3 trillion . But it was a chance encounter with a Japanese gardener that helped the CEO realise he has the time to be a perfectionist, instead of racing to the next project.

Billionaire entrepreneur Huang recounted the story on Friday at Caltech’s 130th commencement ceremony in Pasadena. He told students he used to work in one of Nvidia’s overseas office for one month a year every summer, with his family joining him for the trip.

One of these visits was to Japan, Huang said, where the family spent a weekend in Kyoto and visited the Silver Temple and moss garden.

“The day we visited was a quintessential Kyoto summer day,” Huang recalled. “Suffocatingly hot and humid, sticky - heat is radiating from the ground. Along with the other tourists we wondered through the meticulously groomed moss garden.

“I noticed the lone gardener. Now remember... the moss garden is gigantic... and exquisitely maintained. I noticed the lone gardener squatting, carefully picking at the moss with a bamboo tweezer and putting it in the bamboo basket. The basket looked empty - for a moment there I thought he was picking imaginary moss into a pile of imaginary dead moss.”

Huang - who is worth US$116bil per the Bloomberg Billionaires Index - continued: “I walked up to him and I said: ‘What are you doing?' He said: ‘I’m picking dead moss. I'm taking care of my garden.’ And I said: ‘But your garden is so big?’ He responded: ‘I have cared for my garden for 25 years, I have plenty of time’.”

Huang's company, which was founded in 1993, now has more than 26,000 employees, and 61-year-old Huang said the sentiment from this lone gardener is what helped him realise he has the capacity to support them.

The CEO - nicknamed the ‘Taylor Swift of tech’ by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg - explained: “It was one of the most profound learnings in my life. This gardener has dedicated himself to his craft and doing his life’s work - when you do that you have plenty of time.

“I begin each morning - and do every single morning - by doing my highest priority work first. Before I even get to work my day is already a success,” he added. “I’ve already completed my most important work and can dedicate my day to helping others. When people apologise for interrupting me I always say: ‘I have plenty of time’.”

‘I’m a very nice boss’

It was no coincidence that Huang, an Oregon State University and Stanford graduate, was giving a speech at Caltech - after all, Nvidia’s chief scientists David Kirk and Bill Dally are both alumni of the school.

And Huang - who started his working life as a busboy - is clearly hoping to find some talent of the same sort in graduates of more recent years, telling the students that he’s hiring.

Among the list of reasons to work for Nvidia - which has seen its share price rise 173% for this year to date alone - Huang said, was that it was a “great company” and that he is a “very nice boss” who is “universally loved”.

And while Huang’s staff are not short of respect for their fearless leader, Huang has previously said he knows he can be a tough boss to work for.

During an interview with 60 Minutes earlier this year, Huang - who owns around 3.5% of the chip-making giant - said descriptors that he was “demanding”, a “perfectionist”, and “not easy to work for” fit him “perfectly”.

The CEO even welcomed the reviews, saying: “It should be like that. If you want to do extraordinary things, it shouldn’t be easy.”

 

 - NY Times

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