There are a number of companies that ignite strong passions in people: certainly Microsoft
But my vote for most interesting company, hands down, is San Diego-based mobile telecommunications powerhouse Qualcomm
Qualcomm has faded from the forefront of investor consciousness: No longer does CNBC play a booming "QUALCOMM" sound effect every time the company's name is mentioned. It's simply been too long since that magical 1999, or the sickening drop of 2000: The short-term attention-span investor class has a shiny new pet. But though Qualcomm's shares have yet to come close to those heights of early 2000, there were a few lessons that came from that time that persist. First of all, Qualcomm's bull case was so attractive because investors fully believe, as does management, that the company's technology is going to take over the world.
As Dave Mock lavishly details in his new book The Qualcomm Equation, the company's desire to become a hegemony has earned it quite a few enemies. Qualcomm's CDMA technology is widely considered the most efficient, effective protocol for high-speed wireless communications. But because this standard is proprietary to Qualcomm, the company continues to go through a knock-down, drag-out fight on several fronts. First, as Mock describes, Qualcomm's decades-long crusade to have CDMA adopted continues. The company has achieved great success in the U.S., which has allowed all of the different standards to duke it out. Not so in Europe, where a standard-setting agency essentially locked out all other protocols besides GSM.
Dave Mock is an occasionalcontributor, covering telecommunications and wireless companies here at The Motley Fool, so here's what I expected to find in this book, and did: a painstakingly rendered history of how Qualcomm was founded, how it depended upon government business in early days, and a highly readable explanation of the alphabet soup of high-technology standards. If you're a layman who has wondered just what the heck is the difference between TDMA, CDMA, WiMAX, IS-95, and so on, this is your book. Understanding that I may have just lost almost all of you "Hey, I just want my cell phone to work" folks, let me try this again: If you can imagine a political struggle, a religious war, and a story of redemption -- with Davids, Goliaths, and even an Ellsworth M. Toohey or two -- all rolled into the rubric of a tale of a corporation trying to pick its way through a minefield that never seems to have an endpoint, you'll find Qualcomm's story fascinating. Never mind the acronyms.
Something for almost everyone
But if it were left right there, The Qualcomm Equation would be of interest mainly to telecom folks and Qualcomm shareholders. Ah, but there's a reason Dave Mock writes for The Motley Fool: He is a technologist, as well as a crack business analyst. In our internal parlance, we call companies like Qualcomm "home runs," companies that made the transition from small-cap wannabes to monster winners, creating billions in wealth for shareholders along the way. Mock spills a substantial amount of ink focusing on the aspects of Qualcomm, be they management excellence, timing, doggedness, technological superiority, or even luck. For example, one marketing strategy Irwin Jacobs used was to sell the product as being a better solution not only for the end customer but also for competitors.
The one thing I'd have loved to see more of in this book is the morality play issue. Mock doesn't delve into the rights or wrongs, doesn't really say what he thinks of Qualcomm's strategies, its dogged defense of patents near and far, or how the company has changed in its transformation from being the hunter to the hunted. But the detail in which Mock describes Qualcomm's rise -- and the lessons that this success should teach other entrepreneurs, as well as investors -- makes this book one that is not to be missed.
The Fool's Bill Mann owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy . Bill is usually found these days on the Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter. Afree trialis yours for the asking!