Qualcomm’s Irwin Jacobs Becomes CEO Emeritus, 20 Years After IPO

Qualcomm shareholders gave a standing ovation to Irwin Jacobs, who marked his passage into emeritus status at the San Diego wireless giant’s annual meeting today, 20 years after he convened the company’s first meeting as a public company. Jacobs said in December that he planned to step down from the board at the company he led from 1985 until 2005, when he stepped aside as CEO.

Jacobs has been serving as a regular Qualcomm board member since 2009, when his son Paul succeeded him as chairman. Paul Jacobs was named as Qualcomm CEO in 2005.

Paul Jacobs introduced his father near the end of the meeting, saying the elder Jacobs had inspired Qualcomm to innovate and work hard. “He inspired generations of engineers. A textbook he wrote a long time ago is still being used today,” Paul said.

Irwin Jacobs, a former engineering professor who co-founded Qualcomm in 1985, dryly noted that Qualcomm’s first annual meeting was held under much different circumstances in February, 1992, less than three months after the company’s IPO. It was a time when the wireless industry had just decided to accept Qualcomm’s CDMA chip design, even though it represented a different technology standard. “So the first shareholder meeting really was a launching point for a lot of the things we’ve seen happen,” Jacobs said. He noted a couple of the latest technology advances that Qualcomm had showcased earlier during the shareholder meeting, and said, “We’ve been very lucky to go from seven [employees] to 23,000 around the world.”

Jacobs, who now has the title of Qualcomm founding chairman and chief executive officer emeritus, said he would continue to attend corporate meetings—although it wasn’t immediately clear whether that would include Qualcomm board meetings.

Qualcomm has come a long way from its early years as an industry upstart developing an alternative wireless technology standard, which was repeatedly highlighted  as Paul Jacobs went through a 60-slide presentation of the company’s latest accomplishments.

The company reported record revenue of nearly $15 billion and a profit of nearly $4.3 billion for the fiscal year that ended in September, a roughly 36 percent gain in revenue over fiscal 2010. Qualcomm’s market valuation is now about $105 billion, and the company has more than $20 billion in available cash, although CFO Bill Keitel noted that 60 percent of that is held overseas and could not be invested in the U.S. without paying a heavy tax penalty.

Qualcomm also reported a record 480 million shipments of its MSM chipsets, a 27 percent increase, and noted a 41 percent increase in 3G and 4G mobile device shipments by its licensees. “As everyone knows, there’s really tremendous demand around the world for smartphones,” Paul Jacobs told shareholders.

Later, when a shareholder asked Jacobs to identify some of the big obstacles the company faces, the chairman and CEO said, “Obviously there are a lot of competitors out there… the thing I worry about the most, it’s just complacency.”

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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