I Have Cleaned Toilets, No Task Is Beneath Me: NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang

Company CEOs can often feel a bit insulated from the rank and file when the rise to the very top of the corporate ladder, but NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang has a different approach to saying in touch.

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang has said that no task is beneath him, and said that it comes easy to him because he’s cleaned plenty of toilets growing up. Jensen was responding to a question which asked about his engaged leadership style with 50 direct reports, and how his entire company encouraged to send him the top 5 things on their mind for his inputs.

jensen huang

“To me, no task is beneath me,” he said. “Remember, I used to be a dishwasher. I mean that. I used to clean toilets. I’ve cleaned a lot of toilets. I’ve cleaned more toilets than all of you (audience) combined. And some of them I just can’t unsee,” as the audience laughed.

Huang had been born in Taiwan. His family had first moved to Thailand when he was 5, and he had been sent to live in the US with an uncle when he was 9. He had a difficult upbringing in the US as an immigrant, before getting degrees in Electrical Engineering, including an MS from Stanford. When he was 30, he’d founded NVIDIA, which is now the world’s fourth-most valuable company, and Huang himself is one of the richest men on the planet.

Huang says that he still feels that no task is beneath him, and helps his many employees out when he can. “You can’t show me a task that’s beneath me. I’m not doing it only because whether it’s beneath me or not. If you send me something and you want my input on it, and I can be of service to you, and in my review of it, share with you how I reasoned through it, I’ve made a contribution to you. I’ve made it possible for you to see how I reasoned through something,” he says.

“Seeing how someone reasons through something empowers you. “Oh my gosh, that’s how you reasoned through it. It’s not as complicated as it seems,” employees feel. I show people how to reason through things all the time — strategy things, how to forecast something, how to break a problem down. You’re empowering people all over the place. That’s how I see it — if you send me something and you want my help to review it, I’ll do my best, and show you how I’d do it,” Huang says.

Huang says helping out his employees helps him as well. “In the process of doing that, I learn a lot from you. You gave me a seed of a lot of information and I learned a lot. I feel rewarded by the process,” he says.

But Huang says that it isn’t easy to engage with lots of employees when you’re CEO. “It does take a lot of energy sometimes. If you’re trying to add value to somebody and they’re incredibly smart as a starting point, you have to at least get to their plane and get into their headspace. And that’s really hard. That takes an enormous amount of emotional and intellectual energy. So I feel exhausted when I work on things like that,” he says.