Steve Mollenkopf’s job is to extend Qualcomm Inc.’s (QCOM) leadership in 4G wireless technology into next generation 5G networks.
The path has been beset with challenges, from a hostile takeover attempt by Hock Tan’s Broadcom Corp. (AVGO) to an epic IP battle with Apple Inc. (AAPL) and a landmark acquisition of NXP Semiconductors NV (NXPI) that faced an activist campaign by Elliott Management Corp. and a protracted review by regulators in China.
Mollenkopf, who will appear on June 7 at Corporate Governance 2018: Understanding the Changing Agenda, a conference sponsored by The Deal, joined Qualcomm in 1994 straight out of the University of Michigan’s graduate program in electrical engineering. Qualcomm hired him after he attended a recruiting day.
Before he was named CEO, Mollenkopf made a name for himself by running the chip business and building up Qualcomm’s 4G wireless business.
“They really dominated the market initially for all of the 4G LTE modems inside of smart phones,” said Jon Erensen, a Research Director in the Gartner Inc.’s semiconductors and electronics group. “He was a very important figure in bringing that tech to market and establishing Qualcomm’s early lead in LTE.”
Mollenkopf succeeded CEO Paul Jacobs, the son of a Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, in 2014. The chipmaker reportedly sped up his appointment to prevent Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) from poaching him.
The new CEO faced diverse challenges. Qualcomm faced charges from the Chinese government that it violated anti-monopoly law, which the company settled in early 2015. Months later, Jana Partners launched a campaign urging Qualcomm to breakup its chipmaking business from its technology licensing business. Qualcomm settled later in the year with a plan to cut costs and boost margins, among other terms.
An intellectual property dispute with Apple has been more difficult to resolve. Apple has pressed suppliers to withhold payments to Qualcomm, and the parties are litigating. The Federal Trade Commission has also filed suit alleging anti-competitive tactics.
Amid the challenges, Mollenkopf has looked for businesses outside of mobile where Qualcomm can grow. NXP, which is strong in the automotive and Internet of things markets, is an important part of the plan.
Qualcomm announced the $39 billion deal in October 2016, and boosted the offer to about $45 billion in February 2018 after agitation from Paul Singer’s Elliott Management.
Broadcom seized on Qualcomm’s lagging stock price, driven partly by the protracted Apple dispute, to launch a hostile takeover attempt in late 2017. The government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. and President Trump gave Mollenkopf an assist in March, by blocking Broadcom’s offer.
The question now is whether China’s Ministry for Communications will approve the NXP purchase.
Plan A is to close the deal and to grow revenues in autos and IoT. If MofCom rejects the deal, Plan B is to buy back $20 billion to $30 billion in stock and develop different inroads into 5G.
Mollenkopf says that acquiring NXP or repurchasing the shares should boost Qualcomm’s fiscal year 2019 earnings per share by $1.50 per share and boost the stock price.
Qualcomm has historically done well during transitions between mobile technologies, Gartners’s Erensen said. The company has pitched investors, and U.S. regulators, on its ability to establish itself as a leader in 5G. The cost cutting, buybacks and resolving the Apple dispute are important elements of the plan to boost the stock.
“Now the challenge is that they’ve got to make good on some of the promises they’ve made,” Erensen said.
There’s still time get your ticket to join host Jim Cramer and keynotes Paul Singer, Nelson Peltz, Jeff Gennette and Steve Mollenkopf at the Corporate Governance conference on June 7, 2018 in NYC. Gain insight on methods for managing companies to maximize shareholder value.