By Henry DeVries
“When I start my speeches I get up in front of the audience and say I am going to say something no speaker ever tells you: please turn your cell phones on,” says Dr. Paul Jacobs, chairman of Qualcomm’s board of directors and chief executive officer.
For the 21,200 employees of Qualcomm, the ring tones of mobile phones must sound like gold coins dropping in the cash register.
Qualcomm is the superstar of San Diego’s telecom scene. While Qualcomm doesn’t actually make money every time a cell phone rings, for more than 25 years Qualcomm inventions have driven the evolution of wireless communications, powering the convergence of mobile communications and consumer electronics, making wireless devices and services more accessible to people everywhere. The company’s new wireless chips are already powering tablets and smart TVs, opening the way for the company to expand its reach beyond its dominance in mobile phones.
Jacobs’ responsibilities for the company include leadership and oversight of all initiatives and operations. Maintaining a globally competitive workforce is a primary concern for the CEO.
Qualcomm, which ranks as one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” has long been known for a culture that fosters innovation and encourages diversity. The company also boasts a perkfilled campus with one of the most extensive continuing education programs in the nation.
“Our employees always rate highly their ability to have career growth” says Jacobs, who sees providing continuing education as a way to retain the best and the brightest. “But the industry moves so fast that in order for us to be competitive people have to stay up on the state of the art. Knowing the latest information is just table stakes.”
Supporting education at all levels is an important strategy for Qualcomm to remain as an employer of choice.
“If you want to be able to attract the best and the smartest people in the world and get them to be highly productive, then the key thing is to make sure they come up through the system and get educated here and stay in the region,” says Jacobs. “We find in San Diego once we get people embedded in the San Diego community that is a big help. Unlike a place like Silicon Valley where people are moving constantly between companies, here in San Diego we find that once people are embedded in the community they stay.”
Promoting education at all levels is part of the DNA of the company. Paul’s father, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, founded Qualcomm in 1985 and is now Founding Chairman and CEO Emeritus. Irwin Jacobs was a faculty member of electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1959–1966) and at UC San Diego (1966–1972). He also founded a company called Linkabit in 1968.
“As a father, university professor and business leader, Irwin inspired generations of engineers, including me, to think beyond what is possible today and pursue the technology breakthroughs of tomorrow,” said Jacobs in an announcement of his father’s retirement from Qualcomm in March 2012.
Jacobs joined Qualcomm full time in 1990 as a development engineer leading the mobile phone digital signal processor software team, following the completion of his Ph.D. and a year as a post-doctoral researcher at a French government lab in Toulouse. As a leader of a broad range of technical teams within Qualcomm, Jacobs was granted more than 40 patents for his inventions in the areas of wireless technology and devices. He became CEO in July 2005 and was appointed Chairman in 2009.
Jacobs has deep affection for UC Berkeley, where he received his bachelor’s (1984) and master’s (1986) degrees as well as his doctorate (1989) in electrical engineering, and subsequently endowed the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Distinguished Professor of Engineering chair at the school.
“My wife Stacy and I met the first week of school,” recalls Jacobs. “I moved from La Jolla, with a house looking out over the ocean, to a dorm looking over People’s Park. The culture shock I felt affected me profoundly. I understand today seeking out diversity is important to spark innovation and to get insights. I feel I got that from going to Berkeley. I got an education from UC Berkeley and a different education from the People’s Republic of Berkeley.”
What advice does he have to offer employees in the technology field?
“Employees definitely understand they have to keep up with the state of the art. We don’t have to push it on people, they recognize it. The kind of people Qualcomm attracts are curious and want to grow their knowledge base. We don’t attract people who want to be left alone and say, ‘Oh, I went through my schooling and I am done.’ They are out trying to change the world and change is a constant
in our industry.”