Qualcomm CEO Jacobs Talks Candidly About Innovation and Strategy

1/16/09Follow @bvbigelow

Constrained by legal restrictions and zealously protected by their handlers, the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are rarely enlightening when they make public appearances. But Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs delivered a close approximation of candor this morning in what was billed as a keynote presentation at the Red Herring Global 100 summit, which is taking place this week in downtown San Diego. The presentation turned out to be a conversation with Red Herring publisher Alex Vieux, who began by saying he had different questions for Jacobs than the ones he had previously submitted to Qualcomm.

What I found insightful were Jacobs’ responses to questions about running a public company, which covered the gamut from the company’s evolving, less contentious intellectual property strategy to M&A plans to its R&D strategy and more (see below). In the end, Vieux observed that it’s “obviously a much bigger headache than it was five or 10 years ago.”

“I’ll tell my father that,” Jacobs responded wryly, referring to Qualcomm founder and chairman, Irwin Jacobs. Paul Jacobs started working at Qualcomm as employee No. 33 in 1988, after getting a doctorate in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley. The younger Jacobs’ work initially focused on writing software code to compress speech for digital communications systems, although he gained managerial experience overseeing new technology development. He was president of Qualcomm’s Wireless and Internet Group in 2005, when he was named to succeed his dad as CEO.

“When I got hired, the board said, ‘Oh, no one can replace Irwin,’ ” Paul Jacobs said. “We’re going to be a team. You go focus on the technology and these other guys are going to go off and focus on the licensing and IP [intellectual property]. And that just didn’t work out. You can’t do it that way.”

Vieux did not ask Jacobs how that situation had changed. But Qualcomm has engendered … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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