Only one company appears in the top 25 in both the IndustryWeek 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers rankings and Gartner’s Top 25 Supply Chains: Qualcomm Inc., a manufacturer of chips used in smartphones and other mobile devices (Apple was exempted from the Top 25 list in favor of a new “Masters” category). Phenomenal growth is one reason for Qualcomm’s popularity with list-compilers. The company’s three-year weighted revenue growth of 17.8% put it third on the Gartner list, and its profit margin of 30.08% is second only to Oasis Petroleum on the IndustryWeek 50 Best list.
That’s the good news; the not-so-good news is Qualcomm was sued close to a billion dollars as part of an antitrust settlement over regulatory issues in China. With that settlement behind it, the company is going forward now with investments in applications for new consumer robots, including 3-D mapping, GPS and machine vision for such products as delivery drones, as well as kicking the tires on the connected automobile market space, according to Gartner analysts.
It’s been a fast-paced year or so for Steve Mollenkopf, a 20-year Qualcomm veteran who was promoted to CEO in 2014 amidst rumors he was under consideration for the same position at Microsoft. Mollenkopf had spent the previous several years as president and COO for the company, but much of his career with Qualcomm had been spent in various engineering roles. In fact, he holds seven patents in areas such as power estimation and measurement, multi-standard transmitters and wireless communication transceiver technology.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mollenkopf explained that much of his management philosophy derives from his father, an assistant principal, as well as coach of the basketball team Steve played on. One of the life lessons the elder Mollenkopf passed on to his son was, “You should make mistakes by throwing the ball away, not by holding the ball”; the Qualcomm chief passes along the same advice to his people today.
“Make mistakes by taking action, not by thinking about something or being timid. You want to encourage yourself to take risks. If you make a mistake trying to do something, you can fix it later.”
According to BloombergBusiness, Mollenkopf’s leadership style is better described as informative rather than inspirational, as he prefers to listen and question his staff rather than dominate every conversation. Confident in his own abilities, he empowers his staff to make their own decisions and act on them. One such decision Mollenkopf made, back in 2008, was to opt for LTE technology rather than 4G for the company’s smartphones—a decision that paid off enormously well when Qualcomm claimed more than 90% marketshare for LTE chips.
Today, the big bets are on the Internet of Things, a market with huge potential splintered among numerous markets. “The industry is at a very strong point of experimentation,” Mollenkopf said at the CES 2015 show. “People are trying to figure out what are the new categories, how do they actually work, who is going to win, and how much will the consumer put up with data being taken about their daily lives.”
The Internet of Things, or as Mollenkopf calls it, the Internet of Everything, “is so diverse, with so many ecosystems, that we’ve taken the approach that in addition to supporting the use of technology – make it easy with a low barrier to innovate – we need to figure out how to connect those ecosystems together. So we’ve been focusing on the cross-platform approach.” With his track record, don’t bet against Mollenkopf.