How a corporate-responsibility exec at Nvidia uses data to drive tech innovation that's good for investors and society alike
- Tonie Hansen is the director of corporate responsibility at the chip giant
- Hansen told Insider that vast amounts of
datadrive the company's innovation efforts.
Tonie Hansen, the director of corporate responsibility at the chip company Nvidia, knows that the jargon of innovation can be confusing. Abbreviations like ESG — which stands for environment, social, and governance aspects of investment — can make it hard for firms to understand where to start.
So Hansen's first move when joining Nvidia in 2006 was to start internally, changing the workplace culture to make corporate responsibility easier to understand.
The guiding principle for Hansen's team at Nvidia is approachable innovation that builds a better society. She said tech innovation directly relates to issues like company culture, climate change, and medical research, and so an understanding of stakeholder interests and how industry peers approach those issues is important.
"I see my role as one helping the company stay smart on social and environmental topics," Hansen said.
Hansen's team collects data on which innovations to prioritize by conferring with customers, partners, and shareholders. They do research, conduct surveys, and lead comparison exercises to see what other chip firms are doing.
"We wouldn't be able to pull all that information together if we didn't have those deep relationships and that trust that goes both ways," she said.
With the data they collect, Hansen and her department create reports for people within the firm to develop products. But she said much of the impact of the reports is how the information gets framed to stakeholders. Investors want to hear both why the product is good for business and how it's socially responsible.
Previous reports have led to changes in product design, like how the company builds chips that process graphics.
"If you truly want to be a value to society, you need to be financially of value, and then you need to actually create technology that benefits and run your company in a socially and environmentally friendly way," she said.
Hansen said the goal is for these innovations to have real-world effects. For example, in late March 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Nvidia offered free access to its software to help further researchers' understanding of the virus.
Rommie Amaro at the University of California at San Diego used Nvidia's Clara Discovery artificial-intelligence computing platform to model how the virus functions. The team won the Gordon Bell Prize, a top award in supercomputing, for the progress it made toward understanding the virus.
Hansen said she plans to keep pushing Nvidia to make tech innovations with long-lasting societal effects. "It's always the anchors of the people and technology for us," she said.
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