Activist Forces Strategic Overhaul at Qualcomm

The chip maker plans to cut 15% of its workforce, reduce share-based compensation, and add new directors.
Katie Kuehner-HebertJuly 23, 2015
Activist Forces Strategic Overhaul at Qualcomm

Struggling wireless chip maker Qualcomm on Tuesday said it would cut roughly 15% of its workforce, about 4,700 employees, as part of “a strategic realignment plan designed to improve execution, enhance financial performance, and drive profitable growth.”

Qualcomm will trim $1.4 billion from its $7.3 billion in annual expenses once all the cuts are made. The cost cutting includes “streamlining the engineering organization, reducing the number of offices, and increasing the mix of resources in lower-cost regions.”

The company is also reducing annual share-based compensation grants by $300 million, to “align executive compensation with performance and stockholder return objectives.”

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The company’s board of directors “plans to change Qualcomm’s executive compensation program by adding an additional returns-based metric for performance-based equity awards,” according to a press release.

Qualcomm expects to achieve its cost targets by the end of its next fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2016.

The company also said that Mark McLaughlin, CEO of Palo Alto Networks, and Tony Vinciquerra, an adviser to private equity firm TPG, have been added to Qualcomm’s board, pursuant to an agreement with activist investor JANA Partners. A third director to be selected by Qualcomm and consented to by JANA will be added promptly, Qualcomm said.

A story in the San Diego Union-Tribune Tuesday said that Jana Partners has pressured Qualcomm to consider splitting its chip business — which produces most of its revenue — from its wireless technology licensing arm, which generates most of its profits.

“Jana, which became a major Qualcomm shareholder earlier this year, argues that Qualcomm’s chip and licensing divisions would be worth more to shareholders as stand-alone companies,” the Union-Tribune wrote.

The changes that Qualcomm announced Wednesday included many of the sweeping changes that Jana called for in an April letter to the company.

After growing fast for five years, Qualcomm has stumbled this year, according to the Union-Tribune. It has been hurt by slower growth in Android smartphone sales, government investigations, the loss of a key chip in Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, and increased competition — particularly in 4G LTE technology.

So far this calendar year, Qualcomm’s shares have plunged 16%. Sales for its fiscal third quarter were $5.8 billion, down from $6.8 billion for the same quarter last year.

Qualcomm’s net income for the third fiscal quarter came in at $1.2 billion, or 73 cents per share. That compares with net income of $2.23 billion, or $1.31 per share, a year earlier.

The company’s forecast for the current fourth fiscal quarter is for sales of around $5.3 billion – down from $6.7 billion a year earlier. Earnings per share is forecast to decline more than 35%.

The strategic realignment and cost cutting will result in $350 million to $450 million in restructuring and restructuring-related charges, $100 million to $200 million of which is included in earnings guidance for the fourth quarter.