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At The Center Of The High-Tech Landscape, With Saf Yeboah-Amankwah

At the heart of the high-tech landscape sits Intel Corporation, a company that’s shaping the future of technology. Its senior vice president and chief strategy officer joins us in this episode. Saf Yeboah-Amankwah talks about their massive transformation to catch up and be a leading capacity in the industry and the four areas they look at investing in. He also shares how they create that culture of innovation that’s important in tech. Saf then delves into AI and how it unfolds in our world today. Join Saf Yeboah-Amankwah and see how Intel changes the future.

Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit pathwise.io/podcast/. A full written transcript of this episode is also available at https://pathwise.io/podcast/saf-yeboah-amankwah

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At The Center Of The High-Tech Landscape, With Saf Yeboah-Amankwah

Chief Strategy Officer Of Intel Corporation

This show is brought to you by PathWise.io. PathWise is dedicated to helping you be the best professional you can be, providing a mix of career and leadership coaching courses, content, and community. Basic membership is free so visit PathWise and join. In this episode, my guest is Saf Yeboah-Amankwah. Saf is Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Intel Corporation. He leads Intel’s corporate strategy and ventures group, focused on driving growth-oriented strategies, including strategic partnerships, Intel Capital, equity investments, and incubation initiatives.

Saf joined Intel in 2020 from McKinsey & Company, where he was a Senior Partner and Global Head of the Transformation Practice for the telecom, media, and technology practice. Prior to that role, he served as Managing Partner for South Africa and Head of McKinsey’s telecom, media, technology, and digital practice for Africa among other roles. Saf holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s a board member of the United Negro College Fund, the Department of Defense Business Board, and Mobileye. Saf, welcome. It’s been a long time. It’ll be fun to catch up.

It’s been a minute so I’m looking forward to it.

You were at McKinsey a lot longer than I was. You joined Intel a few years ago. Tell us about your current role.

As A Chief Strategy Officer

Thank you for inviting me to this thing. I go to the CEO, Pat Gelsinger, who is an amazing human being who was at Intel for many years, did many things, left for ten years, and is back driving the transformation. I do four things for the company. 1) I lead corporate strategy. It is a classic corporate strategy team. We do portfolio work and special projects. We look at our M&A pipeline and agenda. We do a lot of work looking at benchmarking and TAM. We try to look around years from now, whether or not the company is well positioned or not.

The second thing I do is run Intel Capital. Intel essentially started a corporate venture capital tech. We’ve been investing for quite a long time but what we do is invest mostly in series A, B, and C types. We look at ecosystem things so not necessarily related to Intel but also things that Intel cares about in terms of driving the ecosystem. What we try to do is be the eyes and ears for the company but also, make money. We try to generate cash on cash returns and we’ve done quite well the last few years.

I run that and invest between $300 million to $500 million a year. We invest in about 4 domains and we have about 25 to 30 professionals as part of the team. That takes up quite a bit of my time. The other thing I do is run three businesses for the company. As part of the portfolio work that I do, I do a lot of restructuring, resetting, and incubation. There are about 4 or 5 businesses that are under my watch. One is the auto business unit, which we’ve been turning around. It’s about a $500 million business that we think should be much larger. I can talk about that in a second later on.

I also run the silicon photonics business. It’s a business that we think is very strategic, which I’m working to transform, pivoted from one business model to another. I also have a sensors and robotics business that we’re incubating. I managed that. We have a corporate partnership and alliances team that reports to me. With M&A, it’s tough.

How diverse our portfolio is, we found that partnerships and alliances can sometimes be effective at accelerating our business model inorganically. I have a very small but mighty team that looks at big partnership opportunities that are not M&A or procurement. It’s a real partnership and requires a lot of creativity. I have that team as well. I have a few other small teams but those are the four main things I do.

You’ve been at McKinsey for a long time. How did this opportunity arise? What led you to decide to make the jump after so long in consulting?

Intel was a client of mine when I was in McKinsey. I hadn’t had a client for 7 or 8 years because if you remember, I moved to Africa to lead a South Africa practice for a while but before that, I’d served Intel pretty intimately. I knew the company and the culture. I often used to tell my McKinsey friends that there’s this one company of all the companies that I’d served that I’d be excited to go work for and one day would be Intel. The culture worked for me. I’m a geek at heart. I’m an electrical engineer. The work that the company was doing was always exciting.

When I came back from Africa, like many people, I was getting to a milestone age, 2 or 3 years from being 50 years old. I was like, “I got to do something different. I can’t be at McKinsey my whole life.” At that point, I’d been at McKinsey for 24 years and had done almost everything that I could do at McKinsey. I come back to North America. I felt that I had another 2 or 3 more runs in me. I wanted to do something different. McKinsey is the only company I’ve ever worked for. I left MIT and came straight to consulting. I’ve been here for 24 years.

Before I start thinking about retirement years down the line, I wanted to do a couple of things differently. I got a call from the CEO. A couple of the board members mentioned me and asked if he was thinking about upgrading his team or getting some more strategic help. The lady that was doing the strategy team was an amazing woman. She’s called Aicha Evans. She left to run Zoox, which is an autonomous car company. She was also a client of mine so she also recommended me. It took a while but eventually, I like to be part of hopefully the biggest transformations in the tech sector. That’s how it got me into Intel.

Knowing the culture, was it a big shock for you to switch from consulting to the corporate world or because you did know the company not so much?

It was a big shock but it wasn’t as blunt and difficult as expected. I also knew a lot of people in the company who were my old clients. Most people at Intel are usually there for 25 to 30 years. A lot of the most senior people, I knew from my past as a consultant. Having said that, it was a big shock. You were at McKinsey dealing with budgets and HR issues. I had to spend a lot of time rationalizing a lot of portfolios, firing people, doing tough CPMs, and having to deal with not just being an advisor but a principal negotiating deals.

For the first year and a half, I also had the M&A team reporting to me. I did a bunch of deals, which are all-consuming types of functions and also running businesses. The way I like to think about it, it was like playing with live ammo. That part for me was jarring. After 6 or 9 months, I got my sea legs and felt comfortable. The other thing that helped was that most of the top teams were new. Even before Pat came in, there’d been another CEO and a lot of changes.

When I joined, most of the people in the senior team were new to their roles. It wasn’t like I was joining a well-formed oil machine. We’re all figuring out our new jobs together. In some ways, that helped. As you remember, I did a lot of transformation work at McKinsey. There were a lot of massive three-year types of programs where you become quasi-operational with the client. I had seen it but having to live it as a principle was a whole new game.

You feel it more. I’ve been through those experiences a few times and it’s the people part of it. When you’re in a consulting role, you’re a step removed from it. When you’re the manager who has to tell somebody that they’ve lost their job or even if you’re in a more senior position and you’re looking at the list of people who are going to be losing their jobs, it’s a hard thing.

It never gets easy. What I realized was that you’ve got to treat people as adults and be very transparent about the economic and strategic rationale. People respond well to that. You get into trouble when you try to spin things. I’ve seen people make that mistake. That does not end well.

It’s generally been my approach as well, to be straight with people. We’re far enough into the era of layoffs. They’ve been going on for decades, probably since the ‘80s that all of us, no matter how old we are, we’ve grown up in this environment. It’s a part of business and you have to accept that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, not take it overly personally, and move on. On the flip side, when you’re the one having to deliver that message, you have to treat people with respect and like adults. Let them get on with their lives. Talk about the transformation that you are going through at Intel.

IDM 2.0

We call it IDM 2.0. IDM, if you remember from a semiconductor perspective, is when you design and make your chips. Don’t interact with the world. That’s been Intel’s heritage. What we realized when we did a lot of work and Pat came back in was we had a fundamental fork in the road to make. Intel was the IDM model and is still sustainable. Most of the IDMs over the last several years have exited manufacturing and given all of their manufacturing to TSMC, GlobalFoundries, or somebody else. IDM famously split the company into two and so on.

Based upon all the work and thinking that we did, we realized that the path for Intel was not only to be a great manufacturing and design company making chips but also to be the world’s number 2, to chase to be that number 1, both manufacturing technology and capacity going forward. Also, to create a credible Western alternative to TSMC from a manufacturing perspective.

For many different reasons, all the work that we did was strategically the most important path. It’s the only real path we had to create shareholder value. That change of trying not only to win in terms of technology but also capacity is a massive shift in strategy for the company because it means that we also can’t just manufacture for ourselves. We need to be able to manufacture for others, and hence 2.0.

We also created a foundry inside Intel. It’s the contract manufacturer of semiconductors for third parties. We’ve been on a journey to restore our leadership on the product design and side. It’s for the PC chips, chips for servers, and chips for edge computing. We’ve also been on a journey to not only re-catch up with TSMC and Samsung in terms of manufacturing technology but also build leadership capacity on par with what TSMC is offering for advanced manufacturing. That’s a massive transformation on multiple different levels.

On the product side, there’s a huge transformation in terms of the way we design chips and then moving to a chiplet world. It also means a fundamentally different cost structure for operating the business. On the manufacturing side, it also means accelerating the path of innovation or manufacturing technology to be able to catch up. We call it 5 Nodes In 4 Years Unprecedented Activity. We’re committed to spending over $100 billion to build next-generation capacity, catch up, and create a leading capacity for the industry. That’s a bold aspiration and a huge transformation, the way in which we are locating our capital.

Is anybody else who’s a designer doing what you are doing in terms of contract manufacturing?

Samsung moved in this direction but the amount of contract manufacturing they do is pretty small with very few customers. In terms of capacity to match the demand and also match the SMC, they are nowhere near that. Samsung is the only real other company that has tried to go down this path.

How far into it are you?

Pat came seven weeks after I came. I joked that I hired him. We have been on this journey since he got here. Once he came, he had this strategy already in his mind but we had to tune it and make sure that we get the whole organization on board. We’ve been on that journey since. Hence, the CHIPS Act and the Arizona and Ohio announcements, as well as Germany. It also speaks to quite a number of the announcements we’ve been making around packaging and bringing customers on board to Intel Foundry.

One of the questions I wanted to ask you with all of the supply chain disruptions that we’ve seen over the last few years in particular, be it from COVID or concerns about leaving manufacturing in places like China or the supply chain issues caused by shipping. We’re seeing this a bit in the Red Sea. We’ve seen it with the Suez Canal. The Panama Canal is having issues so the shipping industry has had its moments as well. How does that leave you in terms of how you’re thinking about where you want your footprint to be?

It’s funny. We spend a lot of time on this topic, as you can imagine, with this whole resilient supply chain. Not only the resilient supply chain of our supply chain but our suppliers’ supply chain. You’d be surprised how a $2 filter can stop the whole $20 or $30 billion factory. The short story is the industry spent many years moving to optimizing for cost and time. The industry did an amazing job.

Every single part of the value chain has been optimized for cost and in-time supply, which has meant certain chemicals and supplies aggregating in China for certain manufacturing, the Philippines for certain specialties, Germany, or Amsterdam. The industry is optimized for scale and scope. The reality of COVID and job politics is that we have to add another optimization lever, which is resilience.

This means that we have to find a way to ensure that the industry supply chain can withstand shocks similar to what we saw in COVID. It’s very clear with all of the dynamics in geopolitics. It’s not just China. We have this issue with Israel. Israel is a pretty big part of our supply chain and so were Ukraine and Russia in terms of the talent supply chain. Also, Latin America and so on.

Valton was dissecting every part of our supply chain and understanding what our supply concentration is and what the cost and time were to replicate in a different geography or with a different supplier. What is the path to be able to qualify second and third-type suppliers and so on? We’ve gone through the supply chain and created as much resilience as possible.

What you can imagine is that there are segments of it that are very difficult to create resilience on like chemicals from China. There are certain chemicals that are only processed in China and 90% controlled in China. There are certain manufacturing of our customers that are only either in China or Taiwan. A lot of the assembly is in that part of the world. It takes a huge amount of money and time to try to create resilience.

You have to think about what you do about it. There’s a lot of work going on to figure out whether or not you can stockpile this huge amount of work that is going on to try to create some shock absorbers to the supply chain. Some of it, honestly, we don’t think is solvable by us alone or even by the industry. It requires support from the government and a huge amount of investment that we as an industry need to figure out how we put down.

You’re involved in the Defense Business Board. I would imagine that’s a central theme for them too because ultimately, parts of this get at national security. If you take Taiwan for a minute, the reckoning was during COVID because of the supply chain issues. You can’t get cars or planes out. It can bring the whole global economy to a pretty big halt. Imagine if Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon can’t scale their data center capacity because they can’t get servers.

It’s maybe not even the CPU. Maybe the memory controller that is being manufactured in Taiwan can’t make it and all of a sudden, you’re stuck. It’s a very important issue. Hence, you see all of the dynamics with the CHIPS Acts with the puts and takes between the US government and the Chinese government. You see the push for most of the suppliers and end customers in terms of the OEMs to push hard around, “What are we going to do to create secondary suppliers in case there are disruptions in the supply chain?”

Switching gears, you said there were four areas that you look at investing in your venture capital arm. What are those areas? What are some of the interesting things that you’re seeing from the investments that you’ve made?

We care a lot about the enterprise IT industry. Historically, Intel has always felt that that is a segment that is a big driver of demand and supply. All technology associated with enterprise, we look at to invest. That could be in software, storage, or security, you name it but it’s all around enterprise technology. The other area we invest in is in cloud, cloud infrastructure, particularly. When we say infrastructure, it’s not just hardware but also software and management of cloud infrastructure.

AI has become a very big part of the Cloud Infrastructure. Click To Tweet

AI infrastructure has become a very big part of that. The third area we spend a lot of time on, broadly speaking, is what I’d call manufacturing technology. There’s a lot of innovation going on in chemicals and tools for silicon designers. There’s a lot of innovation going on in next-generation substrates and machinery for different aspects of the semiconductor supply chain. There’s a lot of innovation going on in packaging. We care a lot about the resilience and sustainability of that part of the ecosystem. We invest a lot in that.

The fourth area that we spend a lot of time on, broadly speaking, is software. We try to put money up and down the value chain. What we found with our Microsoft partnerships and all the other partnerships is that software drives hardware. Software eats hardware but the software also drives a ton of hardware. One of the things being the eyes and ears for the company is understanding what’s going on in workloads. What’s driving developers, applications, and ISVs? We invest in that segment as well to ensure that first of all, they’re usually good returns. Second of all, they give us a good view in terms of what developers care about.

With the things that you’re investing in, how common is it that you end up incorporating them into the core of the business versus they end up remaining an investment that you’ve made?

We’ve gone back and done an analysis on this. Overall, it’s not as big as you would think. Less than 15% of the companies that we invest in at Intel Capital end up becoming Intel assets. There are some notable ones that have become Intel assets. There are quite a number of the AI companies we invested in that are part of the Intel business but that is quite unusual.

What we typically do, however, is a lot of partnerships with the portfolio companies in terms of them reinvesting and doing NRE collaboration. We co-sell and allow them to use our sales engine to accelerate their business. A lot of the time, these are companies that are very complimentary to what we’re doing or helping to solve problems that our customers care about. We bring them to our customers.

The most successful example is when they become public and are using our infrastructure, technology, and references our pooling Intel with them. Those are probably more than the norm. There are some notable ones that we’ve purchased. Sometimes, my investment team is very sequestered from the rest of Intel. They’ve focused on Alpha.

My intervention is very much on the domains they should invest in and the way in which they should invest. Sometimes, we use them as leverage to help the business units understand the segments that they’re investing in. The main objective is to generate Alpha and then bring the lessons from what they’re doing into the company on a pull-push basis.

I’ve seen it from both sides when I was at Fidelity and was not involved in the investing activity that they were doing in terms of venture capital. They very much ran a venture capital arm almost as a standalone thing. At one point, it spun out from the traditional company and went over to State Street, where we didn’t do a whole lot of investing in the way that you’re describing. It was all things that we saw potentially becoming part of our business, either a technology or some services play.

In some ways, we didn’t care so much about the return on the investment itself. We didn’t want to throw money away but we were doing it to keep a pulse on what was going on out there that might be interesting in our business. Every company does it a little bit differently. If you’re investing $300 to $500 million a year, that’s a massive scale.

We’ve returned three times our money. 2024 has been tough but before that, the cash-on-cash returns have been incredible. They were not Sequoia level when they were at their peak. Three and a half times cash-on-cash with strategic benefits is nothing to sneeze at.

In the core company, how do you create that culture of innovation that’s so important in tech?

Culture Of Innovation

It’s not easy. There are 3 or 4 different elements that stand back almost as a consultant and looking at the company culturally, which I can point out. The first is there is arrogance, not in a pejorative but in a cultural sense that Intel should be solving the most difficult problems in our industry. There’s a belief set and an ownership that is based upon our heritage, Intel labs, and all the things that we’ve done in the past in terms of inventions.

Intel invented Wi-Fi and USB. There are many things that Intel has invented for the industry. There’s this heritage and belief set that we are stewards of the industry in terms of innovation. That goes a long way in terms of mindset, aspiration, and interactions with others. That’s a very big thing. The second thing that drives our culture is that we reward and incent people who are contrarian and come up with things that may not have any commercial benefit. We are culturally very comfortable with those people walking around.

We have these people called special engineers. I forget the actual title they have but these are people that roam around the company. It’s 100 of them. They don’t have any real accountability except if you put them in a job with accountability. If they don’t, they’d be a CTO or run an engineering team but they don’t have to. Their main job is to look for problems that are important for the company, describe them, and then create a team to attack them. Sometimes, they borrow, beg, and steal. Sometimes, they go get money from the corporation.

Special Engineers' main job is to look for problems that are important for the company, to describe them and create a team to attack them. Click To Tweet

Pat is one of these people. You have to be voted by your peers that you can become this type of person. All of a sudden, you have the latitude to do whatever you think is important for the company. They roam around. I have 1 or 2 of them in my organization. They are quasi-CTO but don’t have to be. They are the technical brains of the company. It’s very important.

Even with all the cost reduction and so on, it’s almost sacrosanct to cut these people. That’s a very important part of the culture. To become an Intel fellow, as we call them, you have to do something amazing. They also have the ability to challenge anything because they’re not accountable from a P&L or they have total job security. They will challenge anything. They’ll challenge the CEO. They are not afraid to challenge. They’re not business people. They’re very technical and innovative types of people.

The third thing that drives innovation in the company is there’s a culture of paranoia. Andy Grove famously coined this term, “Only the paranoid survive.” Sometimes to our detriment, there’s a real total paranoia around secrets, benchmarking, and trying to understand. We are always afraid somebody is going to kill us and that drives innovation.

It’s not good enough for it to be this way. We need to get to this Moore’s Law and keep driving this thing. Otherwise, the water is going to come over us. Those aspects of the culture drive both a focus on big problems and the audacity that Intel should be the one to solve them and then set a talent in the organization that can do it and can put a team together to go address it.

That has its negatives. None of those things that I said was business innovation. We don’t have fellows who are business fellows who are thinking hard about whether or not we should change the business model. We don’t have people who are obsessing about customer experience or engineer experience in ways that other companies do. There are real strengths but also things that we think we can improve on.

How does that translate into the people that you look to hire? What do you look for in them?

We’re 140,000 people. We have a lot of hiring. Our head of HR and her team is very busy. We hire factories, engineering, software, and sales teams. We have a big sales team. If you’re asking the question at the executive level, the management level and the working level are very clear. We’re looking for talent but it’d be also interestingly, very comfortable and biased toward what I’d call non-conventional talent.

We hire a lot of people going to school part-time or community college. We found great talent in people who are in technical community colleges. We do a lot of work ourselves creating curricula for different colleges to train people that we’ll hire. We invest in the first line of the engineering teams. There’s a lot of money to create talent that is for Intel. We spend a lot of time on that. When we’re looking for talent and I say executive level, it’s 3 or 4 levels below the CEO. We’re looking for people with a very strong engineering background.

Intel is a very engineering-driven company. Even the way we present material in a business setting, it’s very engineering-centric. In some ways, it’s a bit like McKinsey’s very fact-based. It’s all about facts, charts, benchmarks, and so on. That’s how we make decisions and at least, that’s how we think we make decisions. That’s not the case. For you to survive, you need to embrace this very engineering-centric way of communicating so we look for that. We’re hiring executives. You could have gone and done many other things but having that engineering backbone is very important.

How AI Unfolds The World

Let’s switch to some topics in tech. We won’t get to my full list but we have to start with AI. What are some of the things that you find particularly exciting about the way that AI is unfolding in the world?

In terms of excitement, I would say the things that blow my mind away. You asked the question in the pre-start, am I a bull or a bear? I’d say I’m a long-term bull. It’s at the beginning stages of how AI is going to change the world. In some ways, I think about it like the early ‘90s when you had Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and so on. That’s where we are. It’s first-order stuff.

That honestly is not going to be that value-creating. It is value-creating in the sense that we created AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail but they don’t exist anymore because Delta in terms of value creation was not significant. What was significant, especially in the mobile internet, was things like eTrade and eBay. You had things like Uber and Airbnb. It’s things that fundamentally economically are so disruptive and could never have existed before the mobile internet. That is when you create a ton of value.

I don’t think we’re there yet with AI. We’re at the beginning stage where we’re talking about the first-order type of impact. When we get to second and third-order type impact, you’re splitting apart and creating an Amazon business model. Only because you can have such transparency in terms of using the internet. That’s when the music industry transformed me. We are not there yet but we’re going to get there. It’s hard for me to predict but when we get there, it’s going to be amazing.

The places where we have gotten there already are things like autonomous driving. I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to sit in one of the mobilized cars or where you experienced L4 driving. We own Mobileye 90% and spun them off. I went to Israel for a board meeting and they picked me up at the airport. They drove me from the airport to Jerusalem and the streets. If you’ve been to Israel before, it’s like driving in Cairo, Lagos, or Mexico City. The rules are just suggestions.

Level 4 driving all the way, the guy did not touch the wheel except to point in the directions we were going to go. This car figured it out, including how to edge yourself into a circle and everything. That is only possible because of AI. AI has transformed the idea of safety and autonomous driving. For me, that is an example of a bold, what we’re going to see leveraging AI that we’ve not seen yet. Those things like automation, especially in robotics and automobiles, are super exciting. I don’t know if you’ve seen video searches using LLMs or people using AI to create videos so deepfakes and so on. It is mind-boggling to me how compelling and difficult to spot the difference.

Aren’t you running an ad campaign saying you can spot the differences though?

We can. That’s the cool thing. We have an antidote and we can figure it out. That stuff for me is very compelling. It’s all the stuff that everybody is talking about in terms of the scale of the large language models and the text-based, prediction stuff that you see with ChatGPT and so on. Those are pretty cool. We’ve also seen quite a lot of performance improvement with writing software. That’s pretty cool in terms of all of those things.

Those are generation A1 or first-order things. That is fantastic. We would love to get 25% to 50% productivity from our software designers by using a co-pilot or tool. We’re going down that path but we are a few years from the disruption of searches. A $180 billion business for Google, imagine that being disrupted. Those things are the things that I’m excited about seeing, not that I want Google to be disrupted but those are the things that I’m a long-term bull on.

Does that make you a short-term bear or not sure?

I’m short-term overhyped. The hype is too high for the value creation on the ground. The industry will grow into the valuations.

I wonder what’s the economic impact of this in terms of making sure software developers are 20%, 30%, 40%, or 50% more productive. That’s great as long as you keep hiring the same number of them. If it makes them more productive and then you need fewer of them and you do that on a massive scale, it could end up being disruptive in a different way. It’s hard to say. We’ve had lots of changes.

You and I have watched them in our adult lives. You mentioned some of them like the internet, mobile phones, and all the things that have been by and large massive positives in the scheme of things. You go back to manufacturing, moving overseas, or automation taking away jobs. Those are the tougher things. It’s a little bit hard to know where robotics and AI specifically are going to play out in terms of that continuum if you think about it that way.

I agree. That’s why I say that the first order is what everybody’s looking at, which is, “Essentially, I’m going to stop hiring people and hire AI bots to do my work for me,” especially white-collar work. That’s a first-order thing. That’s interesting. It’s like having a bot to help your call center agents answer questions so I get that. The places where the AI will make a huge difference, frankly, are hard to predict. In places like healthcare, they’re getting there.

We have a small incubation business that can take pictures of you and we can tell your heart rate and whether or not you’re having problems with breathing or something’s wrong with your eyes. We can combine it with actual readings. AI has the potential to democratize a lot of the very sophisticated sensing that happens in the West and make it widely available across the globe.

We have a technology that can watch you move and walk, and tell whether or not your recovery from a knee operation is going well or not and whether or not you have a problem that needs surgery. It can watch a baby to tell whether or not you need to bring the baby in. It’s these things where it takes it out of the NICU and makes it much more available. Those things while using AI, for me, could be truly compelling and transformational. We are only at the beginning stages.

One of the biggest constraints of data is to train these models. I’ll give you an example. We have this business for people doing rehab. It’s using a sense of very good feedback on your performance. One of the big challenges is it turns out you can’t just train it on White men in New York. Chinese and African bodies are slightly different. You have to get a broad set of data to train these models on. One of the things that you have to figure out how do you do is how you do that in a way that makes these models effective globally. Those are some of the things that we’re wrestling with.

You have to get a broad set of data to train models. Click To Tweet

What about quantum computing?

Quantum Computing

It’s in its very early stages. We have a lot of research and work going on in our labs. The potential benefits are pretty substantial. The technical challenge to be able to get that done is nontrivial. We’re trying. As part of my portfolio work at Intel, it is in my bottom left box. We’re dabbling in it but I don’t think it’s ready for primetime yet.

Did you go to the Consumer Electronics Show?

Yeah, I went to CES. Mostly, I have a lot of meetings. I’ve walked the halls 2 or 3 times. The thing that is clearer every time I go, and this is the second time I’ve been, is how the auto industry is computers on wheels. The transformation happening in the auto industry is breathtaking.

They’ve gone kicking and screaming into it. If you go back years ago, I don’t know whether it was the rise of battery-powered vehicles or whether it came before that but it’s gone completely the other way. It is pretty incredible what you get in a car.

It’s breathtaking. Part of it is what the Chinese OEMs have shown the world. Tesla has shown it but everybody’s like, “It’s Tesla.” The Chinese OEMs like BYD and Zcash are showing, “If you think about it like it’s a computer on wheels, you can be so disruptive.” The others are finally getting there but they’re getting that difficult way. It’s not their natural instinct. That industry will be unrecognizable by yes or no.

When I was a kid, cars had a carburetor. It was a mechanical thing. Now, you can’t do anything in terms of figuring out how to fix a car without a computer hooked up to it and getting diagnostic data. It’s the old days of machining parts and fixing cars.

It’s like having a sewing machine.

Those still exist, though.

We still have Porsche. They’d be $150,000 each. I was in China. I saw the innovation happening in the auto industry. It was highly subsidized by the government but it is astounding and pretty cool. That’s what I took away, the acceleration of the auto.

It says something that the auto manufacturers are even at the Consumer Electronics Show. That would not have happened years ago.

They have their wing. There’s a lot. To be honest, mobile is largely flat like a lot of stuff on TVs. There’s this transparent TV from Samsung. It’s gimmicky but interesting. There are a lot of cleaning robots going on in houses but in terms of the way you and I think about from our training at McKinsey around innovation in terms of creation of value and distraction, the other one is out of control.

I have two last questions. Over the years, what are the strengths that you’ve relied on again and again? What are the things you had to work on developing?

My training as an engineer and at McKinsey built my analytical skills. That is a strength that I’ve relied on at the moment, how do you disaggregate, put stuff back together, and seven steps of problem-solving? How do you create an issue tree, do it in your head, analyze it, and bring it together? How do you be contrived to ask the right questions because you have the issue tree in your head? That training from being an engineer to being a McKinsey consultant, frankly, is a capability and muscle that I rely on all the time.

The piece that I’ve had to work on is frankly what I rely on more than my analytical skills. It’s what I would call the EQ part. It’s being able to listen when people are talking and reading and understand how they’re feeling and trying to get in tune with what people are feeling to understand what is motivating them and how they are going to make a decision.

Even in a place like Intel, you’re highly engineering-driven. Ninety-nine percent of all the decisions are EQ-driven versus IQ. When it comes down to it, it’s about how people feel, what they’re afraid of, what they’re excited about, who they trust, who they don’t trust, the experiences they’ve had in the past that have scarred them, and therefore leading them to one decision versus the other. The capability that I’ve had to work on is not the IQ or analytics stuff but it’s getting much better at listening and tuning in on the EQ side.

I say this to my team all the time. When you’re talking to people, presenting, and trying to compel people, you always have to think about how they’re going to present it to their boss and how they’re going to feel doing that. Make sure you tune into that rather than the logic that you’re trying to persuade them on. For me, that’s been the thing that I’ve worked on the most.

Ensure you tune into your EQ rather than the logic that you're trying to persuade them with. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting that you talk about how much of the decision-making is driven by that in a place like Intel, which is a very engineering-centric company. I imagine what you would be saying if you worked in something that’s much less technical. When you think back, what do you wish that you’d known when you were fresh out of MIT?

The one thing that I wish I’d known is how precious it is to build and maintain your networks. The networks that you build when you are from 22 to 23 and 35 to 36, the people you meet who are all going to try and change the world in their way are very important. What I found when I was at McKinsey and if it was the case with you, with your business school or undergrad buddies, is that you get a bit tunneled into the work.

You don’t spend enough time coming up for air, learning what others are doing, staying in touch, and building their network. First of all, it’s fun. Second of all, as you get older and more mature, it is much more fun to have a broad network and get advice to do things. I’ve corrected it over the last few years but if I had to do it all again, I would have done more of that.

It is much more fun to have a broad network and get advice on things as you get older and mature. Click To Tweet

When you do all those projects and work with so many different companies and industries, you develop a very eclectic network from your time at McKinsey. LinkedIn didn’t exist when I was at McKinsey. I left before LinkedIn was rolled out. There’s zero excuse not to stay up with a network, especially since we’ve got all these social media outlets doing it. It’s more than that. However many thousand people you’re connected to on LinkedIn, you don’t know them all equally well.

Find a way to supplement the mass scan that you can do by looking at your social media feed with catch-ups or running into people at industry conferences. I’m sure you found it’s a lot different. When you go deep into an industry as you have, you start to develop a much deeper industry network than you get. Even if you’re doing a lot of work in that industry as a McKinsey person, it’s different. Pre and post-McKinsey have both been good in their way but you developed very different networks. No matter what, it does matter. That’s for sure.

The McKinsey network has been very special. I’ve appreciated the McKinsey network post leaving the firm. The readiness of everybody to pick up the phone and help has been pretty cool.

I wasn’t there nearly as long as you were but when you’ve been at McKinsey and you say you were a partner at McKinsey, even if you weren’t a partner and you were just an engagement manager, you didn’t stay quite as long but you’ve got credibility with people. They’ll generally take your call. They’ll give you fifteen minutes of their time and try to help. Part of that network has been very good over the years. We’re probably past time so I appreciate you doing this. It was good to catch up. We’ll have to maybe not wait several years next time.

Next time I’m in London, I’ll drop you a note.

That’d be great because it’s pretty rare for me to get to Washington, D.C. so I’d love to catch up in person. Thanks, Saf.

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I want to thank Saf for joining me to discuss his role at Intel, some of the exciting advancements in technology, and a little bit about his career journey as well. If you’d like to make the most of your career, visit PathWise.io. You can become a member. Basic membership is free. You can also sign up on the website for our newsletter. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thanks. Have a great day.

 

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About Saf Yeboah-Amankwah

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Saf Yeboah-Amankwah | Intel CorporationSaf Yeboah-Amankwah is senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Intel Corporation. He leads Intel’s Corporate Strategy & Ventures Group, focused on driving growth-orientated strategies, including strategic partnerships, Intel Capital, equity investments and incubation initiatives.

Saf joined Intel in 2020 from McKinsey & Company, where he was a senior partner and global head of the Transformation Practice for the Telecom, Media and Technology (TMT) practice. Prior to that role, he served as managing partner for South Africa and head of McKinsey’s TMT and Digital practice for Africa, among other roles.

Saf holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a current board member of the United Negro College Fund, the Department of Defense Business Board, and Mobileye.

 

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