Position/Status: Board chairman, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Estimated Net Worth: $1.7 billion
Residence: La Jolla
Source of Wealth: Co-founder of Qualcomm Inc.
Irwin Mark Jacobs rose from a job as an electrical engineering professor at the then-new University of California campus in San Diego to play a leading role in creating not one, but two San Diego technology companies: Linkabit and Qualcomm Inc.
Linkabit specialized in satellite technology but ended up being an economic sparkplug. A family-tree diagram that has become famous in San Diego tech circles shows scores of companies that can trace their roots to Linkabit.
Following the sale of Linkabit in 1980, Jacobs was one of the seven people who founded Qualcomm Inc. in 1985. The company was soon talking up the virtues of its CDMA wireless technology, though the industry sometimes did not want to listen. Jacobs was CEO for 20 years until 2005, and served as chairman until 2009. As time passed, Qualcomm put its microchips in Apple iPhones, grew its intellectual property portfolio (and licensing revenue) and delved into new pursuits such as life sciences. In fiscal 2014, Qualcomm had a record $26.5 billion in revenue.
Irwin and wife Joan Jacobs remember their roots. They gave $125 million to the engineering school at University of California, San Diego, now named the Jacobs School. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology — where Irwin Jacobs taught before coming to UC San Diego — has also benefited from the couple’s largesse. In 2013, the couple gave $133 million to Cornell University and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology to create a new university: the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in New York City. The school is in temporary quarters and plans to move to a new campus on New York’s Roosevelt Island in 2017. Both of the Jacobses received their degrees from Cornell in upstate New York.
Irwin and Joan Jacobs have become two of the most generous patrons of the arts in San Diego, making major contributions to the San Diego Symphony, downtown’s new main library (called the Central Library @ Joan ^ Irwin Jacobs Common), the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and La Jolla’s Athenaeum Music and Arts Library.
The Jacobses have kept their longtime La Jolla home, playing host to President Barack Obama during a Democrat Party fundraiser in May.