How Jensen Huang turned Nvidia into a trillion-dollar company

The tech major is enjoying soaring success thanks to its processors, which align with the meteoric rise of artificial intelligence

Jensen Huang, president and chief executive of Nvidia, co-founded the company in 1993. Reuters
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When Nvidia's market capitalisation briefly crossed the $1 trillion mark in May, it was predictably catapulted into the spotlight, joining an ultra-elite group of companies flush with cash.

While that round was brief, the California-based chip maker is again enjoying trillion-dollar status as its stock continues to surge, aided by the meteoric rise of artificial intelligence.

Here's everything you need to know about the company and the reasons behind its latest market surge.

When was Nvidia founded?

Nvidia traces its beginnings to April 5, 1993 – years before the dot-com boom and bubble – when Jensen Huang, Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem founded the company and sought to bring 3D graphics to gaming and multimedia.

At the time, PCs were still running Microsoft Windows 3.1, the original Sony PlayStation was still more than a year away, Siemens had not yet released the S10, the first smartphone with a coloured display, and the graphics world looked completely different from what it is today.

Jensen Huang's journey

The journey of Nvidia president and chief executive Mr Huang – born Jen-Hsun Huang in Taiwan in 1963 – did not start smoothly.

His family moved to Thailand when he was four, then had to emigrate with his brother to the US five years later to escape conflict.

He went on to obtain an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oregon and later pursued a master's programme at Stanford, from where he graduated from in 1992 – one year before he co-founded Nvidia.

He has a net worth of more than $39 billion, putting him among the top 35 billionaires globally and among the top five wealthiest Asians, according to both Bloomberg and Forbes. He owns a 3.6 per cent stake in Nvidia, which went public in 1999.

A little-known fact about Mr Huang is that between 1984 to 1985 he worked for Advanced Micro Devices – which would one day become Nvidia's main competition in the chip market.

With the rise of the metaverse, Mr Huang led Nvidia last year to create the Omniverse platform, which it says will play a "foundational role" in the building of the next stage of the internet.

Omniverse is a computing platform that lets users develop Universal Scene Description-based 3D workflows and applications in a faster way, boosted by AI and using little to no code.

For his contributions and efforts, Mr Huang has received a number of accolades, including being named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2021.

What is Nvidia's claim to fame?

The company is credited with popularising the graphics processing unit, the key component we all know as GPU.

While the term GPU has been used since the 1980s and existed as graphics circuits for arcade games in the 1970s, it wasn't until 1999, when Nvidia released the heavily-updated GeForce 256, marketing it as “the world's first GPU”, that the term took off.

That would not only make Nvidia and its GeForce line one of the best in GPUs, but it would also forever link the GPU to the company. That's a big – and game-changing – claim.

A GPU is a specialised chip that accelerates graphics performance and image processing. It plays a huge role in ensuring that content is at its best, especially as smartphones and computers become more powerful and user-centric.

Nvidia's idea kicked off a race in the graphics-heavy gaming market and placed it head-to-head with the likes of MSI, Asus, Intel and AMD, which makes GeForce rival Radeon.

Nvidia followed that up with its RTX technology in 2018, the first GPU capable of ray-tracing, a rendering technique that simulates the physical behaviour of light.

Why is Nvidia hot right now?

The company's performance has received a boost since it has combined its expertise in chips with arguably the hottest trend in tech right now, generative AI.

Nvidia says its new top-of-the-line H100 processor has the power of more than 130 CPUs, “enabling researchers to tackle challenges that were once unsolvable”.

This has also topped tests on MLPerf, the first industrywide AI benchmark, “validating itself as the world’s most powerful, scalable, and versatile computing platform”.

And enterprises have been reportedly responding pretty well: for example, Chinese tech majors, including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and TikTok owner ByteDance have placed orders worth $5 billion for Nvidia's AI chips, the Financial Times recently reported.

In June, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison said the company was buying billions of dollars worth of Nvidia chips to strengthen its position in generative AI and cloud computing.

More orders are expected, but if this is any indication, Nvidia is set to maintain its lead in the now hotly-contested market.

How much has Nvidia's stock soared?

At the close of trading on Tuesday, the Nasdaq-listed company's share price was at $439.40 – up more than three times year-to-date, about 133 per cent higher in the past 12 months and up more than sevenfold in the last five years.

That also put its market capitalisation at about $1.09 trillion as of Tuesday, joining Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet as the only US companies that currently boast a 13-figure cap. Tesla and Facebook owner Meta Platforms have both previously surpassed that mark.

For comparison, the share price of the six aforementioned tech giants in 2023 have grown 41.8 per cent, 34.3 per cent, 60.4 per cent, 45.6 per cent, 115.5 per cent and 142 per cent, respectively.

Among its peers, Nvidia is also dominating: while Intel's stock is up 30 per cent year-to-date, it is down about 4 per cent in the past 12 months and more than a quarter in the last five years.

AMD, meanwhile, is up 74.9 per cent in 2023, 11.1 per cent in the past 12 months and has surged 463 per cent in the last five years.

Updated: August 17, 2023, 3:00 AM