Job Maestro: How to Be the “Light of Change,” Advice From Intel CEO Brian Krzanich

Illustrations: Monica Bosque

“It’s not how deep the hole is that you’re in at any one point. It’s whether you dig down or up.”

In CNBC’s weekly “Fortt Knox” podcast, anchor Jon Fortt interviews extraordinary people with the goal of giving listeners “tips and inspiration to do what you do that much better.” The Job Maestro is excited to share some excerpts from Fortt’s tip-tastic podcast with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, ’82 Chemistry. Known as “BK” at Intel, Krzanich talks about his time at SJSU, how his family has inspired him to be “the light of change” in the tech industry, and his approach to recovering from a mistake.

I never had the dream of being CEO. My dad was the child of immigrants, went into the Navy and then to night school to get his education and became an engineer because he loved it. He always taught me how to fix things and do it myself. It was ingrained in us from day zero that you will be an engineer because that’s what we do in our family. We solve problems.

I grew up in the Bay Area, right in San Jose. I remember when I was seven years old, we bought our house. It was all cherry and plum orchards in the backyard. Now that’s basically the heart of Silicon Valley on Lawrence Expressway. It’s the immigration of people to Silicon Valley that has always driven the innovation in the valley. Go back to my father’s day when it was mostly aerospace. Or today when it’s moved more toward the cloud and cloud infrastructure and all that. It’s still the people who coming here because they know that’s where the innovation is going to occur.

The thing that was great about San Jose State is I got connected with some very good professors and I really got into my work. I did jobs for them on the side doing research. When I went into interviews, I could talk about real work that I had done, not just textbook stuff. And that allowed me to go into those interviews much better prepared.

One of the most important things you learn in college and right away when you get out and work is how to work in teams, how to work with groups, how to work in diverse organizations where people have different ways of thinking about things. You have to learn those skills because without those skills you won’t survive or grow in the company.

You have daughters and you want them to go into the world. My wife would sometimes talk to me about what it’s like to be a woman in industry and in business. And you start to put the picture together. And you get this job and you go, this is my chance. I can go do this. I can be a light of change.

This is a lesson I’ve learned: It’s not how deep the hole is that you’re in at any one point. It’s whether you dig down or up. And I just kept trying to dig up—I kept trying to solve the problem.

  1. Don’t become defensive. Defensive is the first thing in digging down versus up. Accept the problem and start working on it.
  2. Ask for help. I think this is something that has propelled me through my career: I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. There’s always somebody smarter than you. There’s always somebody who knows how to do something better than you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to show that you’re learning. Tell people: Here’s the mistake I made. Here’s what I learned. And here’s how I’m going to be different tomorrow.

Listen to the full podcast of “The Boss’s Favorite Mistake: Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO”

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