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Dean Brenner’s theory of Qualcomm

Qualcomm public policy advocacy focused on “the rapid, wide diffusion of new wireless technologies” and justice

“I got this theory from Qualcomm,” Dean Brenner told me during a recent video conference. “When I started in 2003, I thought I knew everything about Qualcomm. I didn’t think I would meet thousands of new people. I didn’t appreciate what a challenge it is in a large company to constantly process a flow of information that almost never stops. In that gigantic, never-ending stream of information, who has what you think is most valuable? Everyone is doing their job, but I really feel like there are about 1,000 people in the company who are running the business. Strangely enough, it’s not the 1,000 people with the highest titles, it’s not the 1,000 people who have the longest existence. Figuring out who those 1,000 people are and knowing that I could get some really great information from them is really stuck.”

On December 2, Brenner will step down from his position of senior vice president for spectrum strategy and technology policy. His job, as he described it, is “to combine good public policy with advancing the company’s business interests. I try to work at the intersection of those two ideas. My job is to be a lawyer for Qualcomm as forcefully and as competent and persuasive as possible. But it must always be excellent public order.”

In characterizing the contours of government policy he advocated on behalf of Qualcomm, Brenner said it all comes down to “the rapid, widespread diffusion of new wireless technologies that enable people to do things they could never have done before. related part of rapid, wide diffusion is, of course, equality – making sure no one is left out.”

On the day we spoke, federal lawmakers agreed on a bipartisan infrastructure bill with significant amounts for broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas. Also included are pathways for low-income individuals and families to maintain connectivity and help purchase computers, tablets, and the like. This is a subject that Brenner is passionate about. At the height of COVID-19, when many students were placed in distance learning situations, whether they were prepared for it or not, Brenner reached out to me. He said what happened was a crisis, it had to be spotlighted and it had to happen quickly. With that, he and his colleague Alice Tornquist joined me on my podcast Will 5G Change the World? where they framed the problem, noted the urgency, and outlined concrete steps people can take to address the problem.

“We started talking about it at Qualcomm, believe it or not, in 2007,” he said, showing the wheels of bureaucracy are turning, albeit slowly. ‘The point is that with public order it really is a chess game. You have to be strategic and think about three steps further. Anyone can have a strategy, but the strategy can have a shelf life of 18 or 24 hours.”

Brenner, center, at the 2007 CTIA show with former company CEO Paul Jacobs, President George HW Bush, former Qualcomm CEO Gina Lombardi and former President Bill Clinton.

Reflecting on other professional milestones, Brenner recalled the quagmire that brought LTE to unlicensed bands typically reserved for Wi-Fi. “That was a very controversial issue. I remember what it was like in the heat of the moment. Congressional staffers called these meetings that were like debates. I was like the spokesperson for the pro-LTE-U side and I argued with 40, 50 people on the other side. They were very angry, they were very outspoken, they were convinced that LTE-U would ruin the world.” Turns out, not only did LTE-U and then LAA not destroy the world, but carriers were able to significantly bolster LTE ahead of early 5G rollouts. And on the subject of 5G, there was no discussion about whether there would be an unlicensed license; NR-U, another Qualcomm-led initiative, is baked into 3GPP standards.

“I’m sure there are countless things I could have done differently,” Brenner reflected. “I think it’s a good thing to achieve in life if you’re a good public policy advocate, really good at your job. I also think it’s good to be a good person, to treat people with respect, to give more than you get. I hope I’ve never lost sight of the fact that in the end it’s all about… being a good person, doing the right thing, treating people with kindness and respect.”

I can confirm the above. As soon as Brenner found out that my wife and I were expecting a baby, he contacted me. When he found out that my father was in hospital with what would eventually be diagnosed as a rare cancer, he contacted me. He shared his own experience of the loss of his father Norman, who was a production supervisor at the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite; he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1981 on his way home from work.

“My father had a fantastic career at CBS,” Brenner told me. “But he never spoke to the CEO of CBS. The idea that his son would become a lawyer, report to [former Qualcomm CEO] Steve Mollenkopf, would give input to the CEO of a large publicly traded company that would go so much further than what my father envisioned for me.” He added: “I could never, ever have my career without the endless, constant support of my wife Robin Shaffert and my sons Michael and Steven.”

Back to that theory. “I am sure Qualcomm has a bright and long future. [CEO] Cristiano [Amon] is driven to succeed. And many of those 1,000 people who make it are there too.” If you subscribe to Brenner’s theory, there’s no question that he’s one of over a thousand people who run the company. His last day is December 2; he will serve as an advisor until March. Whether his next position is at a university, non-profit, or some other company, “the bar is set very high.”

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