Can Qualcomm reconnect?

Strategic review wrapping up on whether to split the company

(December 4, 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune) Thirty years ago, Irwin Jacobs left his previous company, Linkabit, to co-found Qualcomm. He didn’t have high expectations.

“I told my wife at the time that maybe we would get up to 100 people,” said Jacobs, 82, Qualcomm’s retired chairman and CEO emeritus. “We had done really well with a lot of technology breakthroughs at Linkabit, but you couldn’t expect that” to happen again.

It did.

Today, Qualcomm ranks among San Diego County’s largest employers with roughly 13,000 local workers and about 30,000 worldwide. Its technology powers most of the 3.4 billion active smartphones on the planet. It’s one of only two Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in San Diego County, along with Sempra Energy.

Over the years, the company has become woven into the fabric of the region — from its name on Qualcomm Stadium to its support for the UC San Diego; from Joan and Irwin Jacobs’ $120 million pledge to the San Diego Symphony to the Qualcomm Foundation’s work with food banks and Girl Scouts; from the millions that former executives have donated to UCSD Health Services to the thousands of volunteer hours put in by company employees in the QCares program.

Yet Qualcomm is at a crossroads. In September, the company announced that it would lay off 1,314 workers in San Diego — and more elsewhere — in a drive to cut $1.4 billion in costs as the smartphone market matures. Its share price has tumbled roughly 30 percent this year.

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Qualcomm, which recruits employees nationwide, has brought gravitas to San Diego’s high-tech job market, said Rory Moore, head of startup incubator EvoNexus and co-founder of Peregrine Semiconductor.

“Qualcomm provided the community with a huge anchor where talent could be attracted,” he said. “Irwin and the founders created a company that attracted top talent, and over time they had the capital and the environment to keep top talent. That was really good for the community. It created a strength in San Diego for engineering excellence.”

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