How to make employees “obedient”

David Gelles has been a reporter for The New York Times since 2013, writing about M&A, media, technology, and more. Before joining The New York Times, he was a correspondent for the Financial Times in New York and San Francisco.

Over the course of his career, Steve Mollenkopf has led Qualcomm through one quandary after another. As president of Qualcomm, Mollenkov faced numerous challenges. Shortly after he took office, investors’ lack of confidence in the chipmaker’s prospects caused Qualcomm’s stock price to plummet by more than 40%. After that, Qualcomm encountered difficulties such as layoffs and acquisitions by other companies, but they all survived the storm.

Since graduating, Mollenkov went straight to Qualcomm in San Diego as a junior engineer, and has spent his career there, successfully solving most of the challenges.

I grew up in a traditional Baltimore family with both parents in education. My father eventually became a middle school principal, and my mother worked as a library researcher. I did a lawn business and also worked as a cashier in a supermarket for a while. I was very sporty at the time and went fishing in the Chesapeake Bay for a long time.

I was very interested in engineering in high school, and the original idea was to major in mechanical engineering, when all the schools were full and all the popular majors needed competition. I was successfully admitted at that time and could choose my own major. I asked the school which major was the hardest to study, and the answer was all electrical, so I said, “That’s it.” Not a great way to choose a career, but it worked.

I had a hard time getting a job when I graduated, when my brother sent me a snippet of a thesis about a company called Qualcomm. Afterwards, I participated in an interview with Qualcomm, and felt that my competitors were smarter than me, but I was still accepted. I also said to my wife at the time, “I don’t know anything about this company. I’ll probably only be there for a year.” At the time, people were even debating the need for cell phones.

At Qualcomm, I have to lead the team to complete each project, and the team members are from different departments, and they will not all report to me. So the first thing I learned was how to “obey” people who don’t need to listen to you. First of all, you must have sufficient technical ability. Also, you need to be careful when expressing your views. Businesses are moving in the right direction 95% of the time, and people will always go through a process to reach consensus. For the remaining 5% of the time, someone needs to lead others and do something less popular. Moreover, that person must have their own technical expertise and be respected enough by everyone.

Many of the projects I work on are actually corporate ventures. I can always take a leadership role in the implementation of these key backup plans. I would have avoided taking on such a responsibility if my goal was only to get into management, but I found it was also a real opportunity for personal development. I was having a hard time convincing some engineers to join a project on the grounds that “our company doesn’t think it’s a big top priority” and my answer was “yes, but in about five years, it will be” .

In general, it will still move in the direction of developing 5G, just as electricity will replace steam. The international competition for 5G leadership is fierce because the technology underpins economic development. And who wins and who loses is not yet known. The first wave of 5G started in the mobile phone industry and lasted for a long time, which is a good thing for us. The second wave, accompanied by artificial intelligence, cloud technology and other related data, gave me a feeling of being “on the cusp”.

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