SAN JOSE, Calif. — Qualcomm Inc. announced Steve Mollenkopf, its chief operating officer, will become its next chief executive on March 4. Mollenkopf will replace Paul Jacobs who will become executive chairman of the Qualcomm board.
The move lays down a framework for a smooth transition at the $24.8 billion company, ranked by IC Insights as the world's fourth largest firm in chip sales and its largest fabless company. Little change is expected -- or desired -- at the company that has ridden the rocket of rising smartphone and mobile sales to more than double its annual revenues just since 2010.
"Mollenkopf has been with Qualcomm nearly 20 years and like Jacobs he's an engineer and technologist," said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts in Tempe, Ariz. "He's done a very good job for several years running the company's chip division and keeping them in front of the industry," he said.
"Qualcomm is easily a year-and-a-half in front of everyone else in LTE," Strauss added. "It had the only handset multi-mode LTE chips in 2012 and this year still has 90 percent of that market," he said.
The product leadership comes in part from the company's steady investment of about 20% of sales in R&D in an effort to stay ahead of the rapidly shifting mobile market, a trend the new chief executive is expected to continue.
Mollenkopf will become the first CEO of Qualcomm not part of the Jacobs family. Irwin Jacobs co-founded the company in 1985 as a maker of satellite communications devices prior to the rise of the cellphone. His son Paul took over as CEO in July 2005 in the early days of the smartphone.
The CEO-elect is credited with presiding over Qualcomm's largest acquisition to date, the $3.1 billion purchase of WiFi chip maker Atheros in 2011. Mollenkopf holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan.
The challenges ahead for Mollenkopf include navigating the prospect of peaking sales of smartphones, the company's biggest market, and the slowing pace of Moore's Law, which the company leveraged heavily. On a personal level, Mollenkopf follows Jacobs who has proven to be a dynamic and charismatic leader.
Mollenkopf was among the candidates named as a possible successor to Steve Ballmer at Microsoft. The transition ahead for the software giant is, by contrast, much less clear as it absorbs its acquisition of the smartphone division of Nokia.
For his part, Jacobs is credited with guiding Qualcomm "through extraordinary growth where the company's market cap more than doubled, revenues more than quadrupled and GAAP EPS more than tripled during his tenure as CEO," said Sherry Lansing, presiding director of Qualcomm's board in a press statement.
Jacobs, who started his career as a chip designer at the company, will continue to "guide development of new technology and Qualcomm's long-term opportunities," according to the release.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times