20VC Arm CEO Rene Haas on How The Best Leaders Make Decisions and The TradeOff Between Speed and Quality Leadership Lessons from 7 Years at Nvidia How Companies Can Retain Speed, Innovation and Agility at Scale

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 VC," Harry Stebbings interviews Rene Haas, CEO of ARM, exploring his journey from a curious child influenced by technology to leading a company at the forefront of digital innovation. Haas reflects on his tenure at Nvidia, emphasizing the importance of organizational alignment and swift decision-making. He discusses ARM's pivotal role in the tech industry, from powering countless devices to being acquired by SoftBank for $32 billion. Haas shares insights on leadership, including the weight of a CEO's words, the balance between supporting and challenging teams, and the necessity of adapting and learning in a rapidly evolving sector. He envisions ARM's future growth, driven by digital transformation and energy efficiency, and the company's expanding recognition as a key technology player.

Summary Notes

Introduction to ARM and Rene Haas

  • Harry Stebbings introduces the special episode featuring Rene Haas, CEO of ARM.
  • ARM is a leading technology company based in Cambridge, UK, known for its innovations in various devices.
  • ARM's technology is present in over 230 billion devices, ranging from sensors to smartphones to servers.
  • ARM was acquired by SoftBank in 2016 for $32 billion.
  • Rene Haas became CEO in February 2022 after spending eight years in various roles at ARM and seven years at Nvidia.
  • Acknowledgment to Joyce Kim and Drew Henry for question suggestions.

"When I was younger, my grandparents lived in Cambridge in the UK, and the shining light of innovation in Cambridge has always been arm. My grandfather would always speak of the wondrous creations that arm made and how they powered so much of the world around us."

This quote establishes Harry Stebbings' personal connection to ARM and its significance in global technology.

Notion as a Tool for Organization

  • Notion is praised for its ability to streamline project management and company information organization.
  • The tool has led to more than 70% of companies ceasing to use two or more other tools after adopting Notion.
  • Notion has a global user base and provides ongoing support and updates.

"More than 70% of companies who start using Notion stop using two plus other tools."

This statistic highlights the efficiency and utility of Notion as an all-in-one organizational tool for businesses.

Angelist as an Investment Management Platform

  • Angelist is a platform that simplifies the complexities of fund management.
  • It supports various fund structures, including SPVs, traditional venture funds, and rolling funds.
  • Angelist Stack is a new product designed for founders, facilitating company incorporation, banking, cap table, and fundraising.

"Whether you're running spvs, a traditional venture fund like me or a rolling fund, Angelist has you covered."

This quote emphasizes the versatility of Angelist in catering to different types of investment management needs.

Squarespace for Online Presence

  • Squarespace is an all-in-one platform for creating websites and managing an online business.
  • Features include mobile-optimized websites, email campaigns, and SEO tools.
  • Squarespace offers a free trial and a discount code for savings on website or domain purchases.

"Squarespace is the all in one platform to build a beautiful online presence and run your business."

The quote encapsulates the comprehensive nature of Squarespace services for businesses looking to establish and manage their online presence.

Rene Haas' Journey to Tech and ARM

  • Rene Haas reflects on his path to becoming CEO of ARM.
  • He was curious as a child, influenced by his parents' academic backgrounds.
  • His early exposure to technology was through a terminal connected to a Xerox mainframe.
  • Haas' interest in technology stemmed from his curiosity and a desire to learn rather than an initial ambition to become a CEO.

"I was a very curious kid, I would say it that way. And my parents both had advanced degrees."

This quote provides insight into Rene Haas' formative years and the influence of his family on his interest in technology.

Lessons from Nvidia

  • Haas discusses the lessons he learned during his seven years at Nvidia.
  • The importance of organizational alignment and the startup-like approach to operations at Nvidia.
  • Quick decision-making based on sufficient data rather than waiting for complete information.
  • These experiences shaped his leadership style, emphasizing alignment, speed, and boldness.

"One of the most powerful lessons I think I learned from being there was alignment."

This quote highlights the significance of organizational alignment as a key takeaway from Haas' time at Nvidia.

Decision-Making Style at ARM

  • Haas has evolved to make quicker decisions, influenced by his experience at Nvidia.
  • He encourages a culture of boldness and a willingness to learn from mistakes at ARM.
  • The approach is to be ambitious, increase the pace of innovation, and accept failures as part of the learning process.

"If we make mistakes, that's okay. In fact, the only way you genuinely learn is by failing."

The quote reflects Haas' philosophy on the importance of making bold decisions and learning from failures.

Painful Lessons and Growth

  • Haas shares a painful lesson from the early days of Windows on ARM, where initial efforts were not successful.
  • The experience taught him about the importance of performance, app ecosystems, and market expectations.
  • Despite the setback, the lesson was valuable for future endeavors and improvements.

"The performance wasn't great. We didn't do a very good job with the app ecosystem."

This quote acknowledges the shortcomings of the initial Windows on ARM project and the lessons learned from the experience.

Evolution and Perseverance in Technology

  • The technology industry is characterized by rapid change and innovation.
  • Past mistakes in technology can be valuable learning experiences.
  • The example of Windows on ARM and Windows RT at Nvidia is used to illustrate how initial failures can lead to future success due to perseverance.

"The point being that the beauty of the technology industry is that stuff changes. Things move around. What may have seen as a cataclysmic failure at the time is all about perseverance and sticking to it."

This quote emphasizes the dynamic nature of the tech industry, where failures can serve as stepping stones to success through perseverance.

Resiliency vs. Stubbornness

  • There's a fine line between being resilient and being stubbornly attached to a failing idea.
  • It's important to maintain a broad awareness of the changing technology landscape and adapt accordingly.
  • The distinction between resiliency and stubbornness is highlighted through Nvidia's decision to pivot from corelogic chipsets to ARM-based SoCs.

"There's absolutely such a thing as sticking to an idea that's not good and sticking to it too long."

This quote underlines the importance of recognizing when an idea is no longer viable and the necessity of being able to let go and pivot when needed.

Disruption and Corporate Agility

  • Large, successful companies can become complacent and lose their agility.
  • The fall of Eastman Kodak and Xerox is cited as an example of what happens when companies fail to disrupt themselves.
  • Self-disruption is crucial to avoid being disrupted by external forces.

"Lesson learned is be prepared to disrupt yourself, because if you're not, you will for sure get disrupted."

This quote captures the essence of the need for self-disruption in order to remain competitive and relevant in the face of inevitable industry changes.

Creating a Disruptive Culture

  • Leaders must ensure alignment and clear communication of goals and objectives.
  • CEOs have a significant influence on the company's focus and priorities.
  • Time should be allocated to discuss and plan for long-term projects, even if they won't materialize for years.

"People really listen to what the CEO says. People really want to understand what's on his or her mind."

This quote reflects the impact a CEO's focus and communication can have on shaping a company's culture and direction, particularly in fostering an environment that values innovation and disruption.

Balancing Core Business and Future Innovation

  • CEOs must navigate the balance between addressing immediate operational issues and strategizing for the future.
  • The long-term vision should be the North Star guiding decisions.
  • It's crucial for CEOs to focus on areas where they add the most value, which is often in long-term strategic planning.

"The one thing that I can do and should do that the others cannot is looking over that horizon."

The quote highlights the unique responsibility of CEOs to focus on the future and ensure the company is prepared for long-term challenges and opportunities.

High Performance in Business

  • High performance is about achieving desired outputs and results.
  • It is essential to measure outputs rather than getting bogged down in processes.

"It's all about outputs. I am very much a measuring the output as far as worrying about exactly."

This quote concludes the discussion by defining high performance in business as the ability to produce results, emphasizing the importance of focusing on outcomes.

Theme: High Performance Teams and Output-Based Work Culture

  • High performance teams focus on outputs rather than hours spent or presence in the office.
  • Remote working has become a new reality and requires adaptability in measuring performance.
  • Diversity in thought, opinion, skills, and people is crucial for the best outputs.

"It's really all about the output, which means high performance is a bit adaptable and particularly in this world today where remote working has been thrown upon us in a way that we never planned for, but now is the new reality on some level I think it's about measuring output and I think high performance teams are all about outputs."

This quote emphasizes the importance of focusing on results rather than traditional measures of productivity, such as time spent in the office, especially in the context of the unforeseen shift to remote working.

"Inside the team, I'm a huge, huge believer in diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of skills and diversity of people to get the best output."

The speaker highlights the value of diverse perspectives and skills within a team to achieve high-quality results and enhance team performance.

Theme: Balancing Acceptance of Failure with Accountability

  • Accepting failure as part of the innovation process is important, but creating a culture of failure acceptability is problematic.
  • Distinguishing between failure and accountability is crucial to prevent repeated failures.
  • Clear ownership and responsibility are necessary to ensure progress and avoid ambiguity in project success or failure.

"You really have to be sure that you understand the high level deltas between failure and then accountability."

The speaker stresses the need to differentiate between the concept of failure as a natural part of trying new things and the necessity of holding individuals accountable for their actions and results.

"What I'm less okay with is the project failed. Well, why did it fail? Well, no one kind of really knew whose job it was to take something over the line. That's a problem."

This quote points out the issue with a lack of clear responsibility within a team, which can lead to project failures and a lack of progress due to undefined ownership.

Theme: Prioritization and Inclusion in Decision-Making

  • Prioritization is a sensitive topic that requires balancing clear objectives with team inclusion.
  • CEOs should set a small number of critical priorities that are essential for the company's survival and success.
  • It is acceptable if not every team member sees their specific role in the top-level priorities as long as they have clear objectives within their operating groups.

"It's a very emotive topic inside our company. One of the balances that you always want to strike is priority and also inclusion."

The speaker acknowledges the challenge of setting priorities that are crucial for the company while ensuring that team members feel included and that their work is valued.

"I am a very big believer in setting out a very small number of priorities. That to me are a bit like air and water."

The speaker likens essential priorities to "air and water," indicating that without addressing these fundamental issues, other tasks are less significant.

Theme: Execution Velocity and Maintaining Quality

  • The number of priorities set impacts the speed of execution.
  • Too many priorities can slow down progress, while a smaller set of "must-haves" can accelerate the pace.
  • Clear communication of non-negotiable tasks is key to maintaining quality while moving quickly.

"I think, again, it comes down to priority and clarity around the number of priorities, because if you've got too many priorities, as a result, you can't move fast."

The speaker connects the ability to execute tasks quickly with having a clear and limited set of priorities, suggesting that too many priorities can hinder speed.

Theme: Insecurities and Vulnerabilities of Leaders

  • High achievers often balance the drive for success with the fear of failure.
  • Everyone fails at some point, and observing successful people recover from failures can be reassuring.
  • As leaders gain experience, the fear of failure diminishes, and the focus shifts to leaving the company in a better state.

"I think as everyone kind of goes through their career, if they're high achievers, there's this always balance of what drives you is what drives you is the success, or is what drives you is the fear of failing."

The speaker reflects on the dual motivations of success and fear of failure that drive high achievers, indicating that both factors can be influential in a leader's career.

Theme: Leadership Loneliness and Seeking Guidance

  • CEOs may experience loneliness in their role and benefit from mentors and coaches.
  • Effective communication, especially in large organizations, is crucial and can be learned from experienced leaders.
  • Making personal connections during company events can help amplify the CEO's message and foster a sense of approachability.

"I've had a bunch of them. One that was very valuable to me was a gentleman by the name of Matthew Key."

The speaker discusses the value of mentorship and how guidance from experienced leaders like Matthew Key has been beneficial in learning how to effectively communicate and connect with a large number of employees.

Theme: Effective Communication and Personal Connection at Scale

  • Personal engagement with employees, such as taking selfies and showing genuine interest, can create a strong connection and amplify the leader's message.
  • Leaders should strive to make each individual feel known and valued, which can have a significant impact on company culture.

"The amount of engineers that want to take selfies with me is kind of amazing and embarrassing. But what I try to do, for example, when they take the photograph, I just don't take the photograph. I ask them, what do you do?"

The speaker illustrates the importance of personal engagement with team members and how small interactions can contribute to a leader's ability to connect with employees on a personal level.

Theme: The Evolution of CEOship

  • Continuous learning is a part of being a CEO, and perspectives on challenges can change over time.
  • Some aspects of leadership may become easier with experience, while others may become more complex.

"So I consider myself to be always in a learning mode."

The speaker conveys the idea that CEOs are continually learning and adapting, which suggests that their approach to leadership evolves over time.

Leadership Style of Rene Haas

  • Rene Haas values feedback and incorporates it into his leadership.
  • He believes in the importance of adaptability, especially in the fast-paced tech industry.
  • Rene sees the CEO role as one of constant evolution and learning.

"You take feedback really, really well, and not all CEOs do."

This quote highlights Rene's openness to feedback, which is a key part of his leadership style and crucial for his role as a CEO.

Reading Habits of Rene Haas

  • Rene is an avid reader, often reading multiple books simultaneously.
  • He doesn't have a single favorite book but is currently reading "Build," "CEO Excellence," and "On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors."

"I am a voracious reader, and I read four or five books at a time, don't always finish them, and they're always kind of in flow."

This quote illustrates Rene's passion for reading and his method of engaging with multiple books at once, reflecting a broad interest in various topics.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Rene identifies with being a normal person, which he feels keeps him grounded.
  • He wishes he could make decisions faster, acknowledging it as an area for improvement.

"I still think I was faster. Almost every decision that I look back that I made, that I delayed on, I will look back and say, I should have made that decision sooner."

Rene reflects on his decision-making process, expressing a desire to increase his speed in making decisions.

Insights Gained as a CEO

  • Rene wishes he had understood the accelerated pace of the CEO role earlier.
  • He notes the importance of being prepared for the increased responsibilities and rapid pace of the job.

"I wish I had an appreciation for how the speed the job was going to accelerate so much."

This quote conveys Rene's realization of the fast-paced nature of leadership and the challenges that come with it.

Managing Direct Reports

  • Rene does not adhere to a strict number of direct reports, preferring to focus on the quality of his team.
  • He believes effective management depends on the talents of the people and where a leader wants to invest time and energy.

"I am a bit of a nonconformist when it comes to a rule that says you have to have five direct reports, you have to have nine direct reports, you can have no more than seven because span of control."

Rene discusses his approach to managing his team, emphasizing the importance of flexibility rather than adhering to conventional rules.

The Hardest Element of Rene Haas' Role

  • Rene finds it challenging to manage the impact of his words and actions as they are closely observed by others.
  • He has had to adapt to the scrutiny that comes with the CEO position.

"People really, really watch what I say. People really, really watch what I do."

This quote reveals the pressure Rene feels as a CEO, where even minor expressions or actions can be interpreted as significant by his team.

Desired Traits for Children

  • Rene hopes his children will embody curiosity, resiliency, and generosity.

"I think it would be curiosity, resiliency, and generosity."

Rene lists the traits he values and wishes to see in his children, indicating the qualities he believes are important for personal development.

Lessons on Effective Parenting

  • Rene describes parenting as a balance between offering support and allowing children to learn from challenges.
  • Success in parenting, to him, is raising children who are kind, generous, resilient, and respected.

"It's finding that balance."

Rene talks about the delicate balance required in parenting between guiding children and letting them learn from their experiences.

Future Outlook for Rene Haas and Arm

  • Rene predicts a golden era for Arm, with opportunities in various sectors due to digitalization and sustainability.
  • He hopes Arm will become more widely recognized and influential in the next five years.

"I think the next five to ten years are going to be just amazing."

Rene expresses optimism for the future of Arm, anticipating significant growth and impact in the technology sector.

Personal and Professional Tools

  • Rene discusses the use of Notion for project management and organization.
  • He speaks highly of AngelList for fund management and its new product for founders.
  • Rene promotes Squarespace for building an online presence with mobile optimization, email campaigns, and SEO tools.

"Notion has a worldwide network of millions of users creating templates, tutorials and new inspiration."

"Angelist has you covered."

"Squarespace is the all-in-one platform to build a beautiful online presence and run your business."

These quotes show Rene's endorsement of various tools that aid in personal organization, investment management, and online business operations.

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