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In brief: In the thirty years since he co-founded the firm, Jensen Huang has helped take Nvidia from a company with $40,000 in the bank to one of the ten largest organizations in the world by market cap. But despite its $1.19 trillion valuation, the Team Green CEO still worries that Nvidia may one day fail.
Huang made his confession during the 2023 New York Times DealBook Summit (via Insider), where the NYT's Andrew Sorkin asked Huang why he keeps talking about how he does everything to keep the company afloat.
Huang said that the challenges Nvidia has faced in the past have left him with the unshakable feeling the company won't survive. In 1995, following the release and commercial failure of its first chip, the NV1, Nvidia nearly went bankrupt and had to lay off half its employees, leaving just 40, and move to a smaller office. Nvidia has had other close calls since then, too.
"I think when you build a company from the ground up, and you've experienced real adversity, and you really experienced nearly going out of business several times, that feeling stays with you," Huang said.
In 2021, Huang appeared on the cover of Time magazine after he was named one of the most influential people of the year. He topped the 'Most Popular CEO' survey in October and Nvidia's AI-driven soaring stock price has seen him become one of the 30 richest people in the world with a net worth of $44 billion. That would make most people feel pretty good about themselves, but it's not always the case with Huang.
"I don't wake up proud and confident. I wake up worried and concerned," Huang said. "It just depends on which side of the bed you get out on."
The Nvidia boss also talked about his company's rivals in the industry, such as AMD, Apple, and Intel.
"I don't think people are trying to put me out of business – I probably know they're trying to, so that's different," Huang said. "I live in this condition where we're partly desperate, partly aspirational."
But Huang said living in a constant state of worry over Nvidia suddenly losing its crown and somehow going bankrupt has its advantages.
"I think during adversity you're more focused," Huang said. "And when you're more focused, you could perform better.
"I like to live in that state where we're about to perish, and so I enjoy that condition," he continued. "I do my best work in that condition."
Huang has previously spoken about how much more difficult running Nvidia has proven compared to how he envisioned it, admitting that he wouldn't become the CEO again if he could do things over. But it seems there are perks to the job – and not just the money.
"I like going home and telling my wife I saved the company today," Huang said during the DealBook summit. "Maybe it wasn't true, but I'd like to think so."
Earlier this week, we heard about another one of Nvidia's co-founders, former CTO Curtis Priem, who would be worth around $70 billion if he'd kept his Nvidia stock. Priem now lives an "off the grid," philanthropic lifestyle and is a big fan of writing earth-saving manifestos.