The big picture: AMD promoted Dr. Lisa Su from her role as chief operating executive to CEO in October 2014 and hasn't looked back. It was a brilliant hire in hindsight as Su has managed to bring AMD back from the edge of irrelevance, transforming the company into the viable competitor it once was by going toe to toe with rival Intel and branching out into new markets. She's also made stockholders very happy, boosting share value more than 900 percent since taking office.

In a recent phone interview with Barron's, Su said that one of her main goals when taking over as CEO was to "focus on the right things." She believed high-performance computing was a great market that was only going to become more important moving forward, so they focused on it.

Also instrumental to success in tech, she said, is to make bets far out in time.

"The decisions that we made in that 2015 to 2016 timeframe were very important technology bets that are now playing out in the roadmap in 2018 and 2019. It's things like betting on 7-nanometer technology and being early in that, really investing in our core IP and our core foundation."

Equally as important was deciding on what not to invest in. Su said there were plenty of areas they thought were interesting but wouldn't make or break them so they decided not to pursue them.

Su is well aware of AMD's up and down history but said she has always been attracted to solving really tough problems and if we're being frank, AMD was in a tough position when she took over. The company had long lost its place in the fight against Intel and the outlook looked grim.

As a young engineer at IBM, one piece of advice Su picked up was to run towards problems because "problems actually create opportunities."

"When you look at the opportunity that we have in the markets that we serve and the customers that we're partnered with, there's no better opportunity in the semiconductor industry," she added.