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sHeroes: How Dr. Isabel Yang of Advanced Energy is empowering girls to have careers in science, technology, math and engineering

I think women tend to be more under the microscope regarding their leadership skills. There are two major behaviors that I found to have worked for me. The first is that we lead people and manage processes. Meaning, if you want to change culture, don’t let processes dictate behavior but let your example shape behavior. […]

I think women tend to be more under the microscope regarding their leadership skills. There are two major behaviors that I found to have worked for me. The first is that we lead people and manage processes. Meaning, if you want to change culture, don’t let processes dictate behavior but let your example shape behavior. The second is related to the first, and that is to adjust your management style or engagement approach accordingly either to the team dynamics or individual. For example, in a room full of opinionated technologists in a hot debate, the last thing I would do is to prescribe my own ideas and mandate a direction. I usually sit back and listen until cooler heads prevail and a real conversation occurs.


As a part of my interview series with strong female leaders, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Isabel Yang. Dr. Yang joined Advanced Energy in July 2018 as the chief technology officer and senior vice president. Before joining Advanced Energy, Yang served as the vice president of strategy and operations for IBM Research. She focused on driving leading-edge innovations in areas, such as artificial intelligence, healthcare solutions, and high-performance computing. She has three patents, over 40 technical publications, and was the recipient of the Paul Rappaport Best Paper award at IEDM for her work on silicon on insulator with active substrate (SOIAS). She’s a strong believer in empowering girls to embrace careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always loved physics and math because they explain why the physical world works in such concise and beautiful way. The earliest memory is when my father, a mechanical engineer, helped me with my homework in high school to understand gravitational forces and the impact on motion. As I entered the STEM field professionally starting with my studies at MIT, I also realized that the ability to communicate the value and impact of science is very important. I try to hone these communication skills throughout my career, especially through the practice of leading technical teams and translating their impact on business and society.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As most of my life is spent on the east coast of the US, I lived primarily at sea level. A couple of weeks after joining AE, our leadership team had an offsite event. We had a good dinner and some light wine. As we came out of the hotel and stood on the front porch to admire the mountain view, I literally fainted. I blame it on the 10K feet altitude and my red blood cells not having adequate time to adjust. Luckily, I woke up before the ambulance showed up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am one of those people who worry about not being prepared. I do a lot of research before making big decisions. Sometimes I’m so absorbed in the next thing I need to do, I tend to forget the mundane. This even happened to me in high school. I got up early and hurried to the subway to take my one-hour-plus ride to school. I had AP physics at 8AM. I was getting a bit suspicious when I got off the train and didn’t see any other students approaching our building. When I got to the doors; they were LOCKED! Back in those days, we didn’t have email or cell phones (okay, dating myself). I got back on the train home and called my friend. Then she told me school was closed for some administration day. Right then, I had a flashback: I did exactly the same thing several years earlier. I went to school on a snow day when school was closed. Lessons learned: sometime even the mundane details (like checking one’s calendar) matters.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am focusing on a digital transformation based project which will allow our customers to be more productive and efficient in their factories by improving uptime and reducing waste.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I think women tend to be more under the microscope regarding their leadership skills. There are two major behaviors that I found to have worked for me. The first is that we lead people and manage processes. Meaning, if you want to change culture, don’t let processes dictate behavior but let your example shape behavior. The second is related to the first, and that is to adjust your management style or engagement approach accordingly either to the team dynamics or individual. For example, in a room full of opinionated technologists in a hot debate, the last thing I would do is to prescribe my own ideas and mandate a direction. I usually sit back and listen until cooler heads prevail and a real conversation occurs.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The best advice I can give is learn to delegate, but make sure you know your people well and leverage their strengths. Listen more and talk less. I sometimes act like a detective to discover the root causes to big problems, and the best way to do that is to talk to a lot of people and listen carefully to what they have to say.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is one person who shaped my career probably more than anyone else. He was a general manager at my previous place of employment. He was the one who promoted me to my first executive position, and then subsequently championed for me to become a Vice President for one of the largest R&D organizations in the world. I think what was very special about that relationship was that he trusted my judgement in my area of expertise, and he recognized my ability to apply certain core competencies to areas out of my area of expertise. When I left to come to AE, I talked to him last because I knew it would be a hard conversation. I let him know that he’s made the most impact on my career and I’m eternally grateful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Only the paranoid survives..” Andrew Grove, Ex-Intel CEO. I think this quote sums up what it’s like working in technology driven industries. There’s so much underneath this quote. Don’t be too complacent, success doesn’t last forever, have a sense of urgency and try to do better than your competition. Technology executives have to constantly think about how to provide differentiated value to our customers, so I think the quote is quite appropriate.

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