Intel executive Diane Bryant remembers it as a defining moment in her life. Four months before graduating from Bella Vista High School, she was forced to move out of her family home in Fair Oaks.
She had turned 18 in February 1980, and her father had made it clear to her and her older sister that once they were legal adults, his financial responsibility was terminated.
“I literally came home from school on my 18th birthday, and all of my possessions were thrown out on the front yard,” Bryant recalled, “and my dad said whatever I could fit in my car, I could take, and what didn’t fit was his. I had a little Volkswagen bug, so you can imagine how much I was able to fit. I couldn’t fit my 10-speed bicycle that I had bought, so that stayed. It was a life-changing experience.”
But it wasn’t an experience that prevented her from becoming successful. More than three decades later, Fortune magazine would name Bryant one of the 50 most powerful women in business. Her division at Intel, known as the Data Center Group, generated $17.2 billion in revenue last year. That was 29 percent of the company’s overall proceeds.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Bryant, a graduate of American River College and UC Davis, talked with The Bee about finding herself homeless as a teenager, learning tough lessons and developing her management style.
Q: You lead the Data Center Group. Tell me what that means.
A: We at the Data Center Group are responsible for all of the technology that is deployed in data centers in support of fueling the Internet and cloud computing. It’s the technology that goes into servers, storage and network infrastructure.
All phones and PCs connect into data center infrastructure. That’s where your applications and content and analytics are all pulled from. We have the technology that fuels the Internet.
Q: What would you describe as the key lessons you’ve learned in your career?
A: I tell employees here at Intel in open forums that their manager isn’t a psychic. In the absence of data, your manager is going to assume that you are content in your current job. You really need to make your desires and expectations known.
It did take me a long time to figure that out. As an engineer, I felt results would speak for themselves. All I had to do was work hard, deliver results and I would be rewarded for that. That did work for me for a while in my career. But as I became more senior, it became more clear to me that there are other factors that go into selecting the person for the next big opportunity.
I realized that I couldn’t assume that if I sit quietly, work hard, then I will be selected. The lesson is you need to advocate for yourself. You need to let your desires and expectations be known, and I do believe that my failure to do so impacted my progress at various points in my career.
(You also need) to recognize the importance of social intelligence, or what is called EQ. Social intelligence is the ability to effectively navigate and negotiate through complex social relationships and environments. At Intel, I’m surrounded by brilliant, brilliant people, people with tremendous IQ.
As engineers, we deal with data and facts, but what I’ve learned over my 32 years with Intel is that the big results and the big successes clearly don’t occur in isolation. Your ability to work effectively in a team and to collaborate and to have a truly genuine interest and respect for the other person’s perspective is really critical.
Q: Did having a difficult home life as a child play a role in shaping your social intelligence?
A: Absolutely, I was always trying to navigate complex, highly charged, highly emotional environments, and learning to navigate through those situations. My father had an explosive temper. I learned early how to read a situation and navigate through the land mines.
Q: What were some early influences on your work ethic?
A: Oh, my goodness, that’s a loaded question. My father was a real taskmaster. He set very clear expectations on work ethic. The expectation at home was that there was no free meal. My sister and I were expected to do very well in school. The only acceptable grade was an A.
If there were B’s, we were punished for them. It was a very rigid environment. The good news is that meant that I very mechanically progressed through the high school curriculum – from math to algebra to geometry to algebra II to trigonometry. I just kept going along, and I did the same with science and English.
Fortunately, that set me up well for college and a degree in engineering. Neither my mother nor my father had a college education. My dad was a high-school dropout. My mom finished high school but didn’t go to college.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom, a homemaker. Then my dad decided that, with my mom being home, it was allowing my sister and I to have too easy a life. He insisted, when I was about 12 years old, that she go to work. She went to work as a secretary, and that then forced the responsibility to my sister and I to do things like make dinner every night, clean the house, do the laundry.
Q: How did that experience with homelessness affect you?
A: I needed to be self-sufficient and make sure that whatever college degree I pursued was going to allow me financial independence.
Q: Are your parents still together?
A: I’m the youngest of two children, and so as soon as I was out on my own, then my mom got the courage to divorce my dad, and then unfortunately she died. She had cancer. My dad is still alive. I haven’t seen him for decades.
Q: What career or life moments shaped your management style?
A: Success is great, but it’s always the failures or the negative experiences that tend to have shaped me the most. My management style was really shaped by enduring bad managers and knowing that I never wanted to be like them.
A quote that I love is from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. He said, “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.”
Key leadership attributes that I have learned are the need and the ability to emotionally engage in organizations. Clearly, as a leader, you need your organization committed to the cause you’re trying to drive, committed to the company. You need them coming to work every day excited and engaged.
I had a manager who led us by hitting us over the head. I won’t name him obviously, but he would make it clear to us every day that he was the leader, and he was the smartest one among us and that we were to do whatever he told us to do. That tack always gets compliance from the employees but not always emotional commitment.
Q: Did you face any other career difficulties, besides having to learn to advocate for yourself?
A: I feel like my life has been a series of hurdles. When I joined Intel, the tech industry, back in the mid-’80s, women were clearly a minority. I was the only woman sitting around the table.
I literally had to learn to swear. It was the cowboy era in high-tech industry. There was lots of banging on the tables and swearing and screaming, so learning to swear was a big deal. The way I was raised, you just did not swear. I was in a situation in a conference room in my first couple of months of work when I was the only woman sitting around the table and the person talking threw out the f-word, then stopped the meeting, turned to me and apologized.
He said, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and it was horrible to be singled out in that manner, and I turned bright red. I paused and was quite taken aback, and then I said, “No f-ing problem.” It reset expectations in the room. It was like, “Oh, it’s OK. We can swear in front of her. We don’t have to change. She isn’t going to ruin the party.”
Q: What do you look for when you’re hiring employees?
A: Beyond the explicit job qualifications, I look for grit. There’s been a lot of talk about grit lately, and it truly resonates with me.
You probably have seen the TED talk from Angela Lee Duckworth or read her book on grit, and I am completely aligned.
To succeed, you need grit, that growth mindset or fundamental belief that the ability to learn and grow is not fixed but that it grows in response to challenges and failures. Failure is not a permanent condition. That passion for driving forward to that long-term goal or end state, that motivation to pursue that objective despite the obstacles, really resonates with me and with my success at Intel. It’s something that I look for in employees.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and space.
Title: Executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group for Intel Corp.
Education: Bachelor’s in electrical engineering, University of California, Davis, transferring from American River College
Honors: Outstanding Alumnus of the Year from UC Davis, 2017; Distinguished Alumni Award from California Community Colleges in 2016; named one of the 50 most powerful women in business by Fortune magazine in 2015 and 2016; ranked No. 32 in the Silicon Valley 100 by Business Insider