Qualcomm Co-Founder Irwin Jacobs Plans to Retire from Board

San Diego’s Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) says founding CEO Irwin Jacobs plans to retire from the board this spring, marking his final separation from the San Diego wireless technology giant.

Jacobs, 78, co-founded Qualcomm in 1985, and served as chairman and CEO through the company’s first two decades. During the trying early years, Jacobs led a prolonged and wide-ranging battle to establish Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA, the wireless standard Qualcomm had developed. It was a time, however, after many European countries—and much of the world, it seemed—had adopted Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM), also known as “Global System for Mobile Communications.”

By the time Jacobs stepped down as CEO on June 30, 2005, CDMA had been adopted in the United States as a wireless standard (in 1993) and Qualcomm was a public company that had grown big enough to be listed on the S&P 500 and Fortune 500.

One of the company’s most important watersheds came in 1999, when Qualcomm settled its long-running legal dispute with Sweden’s Ericsson over the wireless standards for what would then be the next-generation (3G) of mobile phones. The deal removed a cloud of uncertainty that had weighed on Qualcomm’s fortunes, and the price of Qualcomm shares skyrocketed in the following years.

When Jacobs stepped down as CEO, he was succeeded by his third-eldest son Paul, a Qualcomm veteran who was then president of Qualcomm’s Wireless and Internet Group. Irwin Jacobs continued to serve as Qualcomm’s chairman through March 2009, when Paul Jacobs took over the chairman’s role as well.

“Qualcomm’s business model and culture of innovation are due to Irwin’s vision and leadership,” Paul Jacobs says in a statement from the company. “He continues to inspire all of us here at Qualcomm as we pioneer the next generation of mobile technologies.”

Jacobs arrived in San Diego as a young engineering professor at the University of California, San Diego, after spending seven years on the engineering faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He left UCSD in the early 1970s to found Linkabit, a satellite communications and technology company that served as a launching pad for scores of other tech startups in San Diego. M/A-Com acquired Linkabit in 1980, and Jacobs remained as a vice president until he departed to start Qualcomm.

“When we first started Qualcomm, I told my wife Joan that, if we were lucky, we might grow to 100 employees,” Irwin Jacobs says. “We clearly have surpassed that. I am immensely proud of the company we have built, its more than 22,000 employees, and the impact Qualcomm has made on the telecom industry and the lives of mobile users worldwide.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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