AMD's Ruiz: A Soft-Spoken But Determined Leader
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Hector Ruiz traveled a long, hard road on the way to becoming CEO of AMD, a company that last year generated more than $6 billion in revenue and has over 16,000 employees worldwide.
He was born in a small town in Mexico called Piedras Negras (Spanish for "black rocks") on Christmas Day. The eldest child in a family with four younger sisters, Ruiz attended high school across the U.S. border in Eagle Pass, Texas, and moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old. Undeterred by his then-faulty English, he ended up valedictorian of his class and later earned a Ph.D. from Rice University in electrical engineering in 1973.
Fast-forward to 2000 and the start of Ruiz's tenure at AMD (NYSE: AMD), where he's shown the same steady resolve to succeed. Based on coverage of his public appearances and interviews with colleagues and associates, the AMD CEO comes across as a soft-spoken but determined leader who expects the goals he sets to be met.
"I never met an individual like Hector who is so kind and also so demanding," said Randy Allen, an AMD veteran of 24 years and currently vice president of server chips. "He can be tough and even brutal in driving the management team, but you look at 50x15, that's a passion of his that's all about social responsibility. Yes it's good for our business, but it also shows he understands where he came from. Hector has that relentless, take-no-prisoners drive, but he also has a soft heart."
The 50x15 initiative is an AMD program aimed at helping get 50 percent of the world's population connected to the Internet by 2015. So far, the program has met with mixed results but has helped AMD get a foothold in certain emerging markets that have the potential to be major contributors to its bottom line down the road.
AMD chips also power the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) notebook that was the brainchild of MIT Media Lab's Nicholas Negroponte. The high-profile nonprofit behind the low-cost notebook PC has had a contentious relationship with Intel -- first accusing the chip giant of undermining its efforts to bring a $100 notebook to the masses, then bringing Intel on as a partner only to break up again, leaving AMD back in the driver's seat.
AMD was already losing badly to the chip giant when Ruiz joined the company in 2000 from Motorola (NYSE: MOT) as president and chief operating officer. He came onboard under then-CEO Jerry Sanders, known for his far more brash and flamboyant personality.
"Sanders wanted to be the center of attraction, and the people who worked for Jerry didn't get a lot of external notability," Nathan Brookwood, a research fellow with Insight64, told InternetNews.com. "Hector is a lot more willing to share the limelight and even pushing others into it, which I think helps the organization's morale whether its winning or losing in the market."
Bringing in a new personality and style
Fred Weber, founder of MetaRAM and a former chief technology officer at AMD under both Sanders and Ruiz, agreed that the previous and current CEOs had a distinct difference in personality and management style.
"I think what Jerry saw in Hector was a smart business guy who could really capitalize on the engineering accomplishments AMD was making," Weber told InternetNews.com.