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Executive Profile: Joan Waltman

Joan Waltman’s 15-year career at Qualcomm Inc. took a memorable detour through Las Vegas.

Waltman, now president of Qualcomm’s Wireless Business Solutions unit, was happy at work in San Diego roughly 10 years ago. That’s when her husband, physician Thomas Waltman, gave her news that he had lined up a job in Las Vegas.

Waltman, now 42, didn’t want to leave Qualcomm, but “family was first.”

She asked Qualcomm managers if they had anything available in Las Vegas. As it turned out, the company needed someone to oversee construction of a network operations center , a big computer room to back up a similar center in San Diego. Waltman took the job, getting a pay cut and a demotion.

Instead of making presentations to company brass, she was crawling under the floor to pull cable, overseeing a parade of contractors and technical people and borrowing a neighboring retailer’s bathroom. She had five months to bring the communications center online.

Waltman remembers asking herself, “Why am I doing this?”

Eventually, Waltman said her perspective changed. She realized the work was important. What’s more, she set about making Qualcomm’s Las Vegas outpost a desirable place to work, where people would feel needed.

Waltman eventually came back to San Diego. She rose through the company and shifted emphasis between engineering and management.

In April, the company made her president of Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions, the side of the house that helps other companies keep track of big-rig trucks and construction equipment. She now oversees 1,100 employees and is planning Qualcomm’s next generation of products and services.

It’s bound to be a challenge. Qualcomm is shipping more tracking hardware than last year: 35 percent more satellite tracking gear and eight times the amount of terrestrial tracking gear (when measuring the third quarter of 2005 against the third quarter of 2004).

Meanwhile, other companies are laying claim to the same territory. “Everyone and their brother” offer devices that send data wirelessly, Waltman said. What Qualcomm offers, she said, is high-grade service and depth of experience in the industry , among other things.


Name: Joan Waltman.

Title: President, Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions.

Company: Qualcomm Inc.

Age: 42.

Place of residence: Rancho Santa Fe.

Birthplace: Los Angeles.

Family: Husband Thomas Waltman is clinical service chief/medical director of Perlman Cardiology at UC San Diego Medical Center; two sons, Devin, 13, and Daniel, 11.

Education: Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Cal State Fullerton; Master of Science in electrical engineering from UCSD.


Essential business philosophy: Growth is not a strategy; it is the result of a good strategy well executed.

Best way to keep a competitive edge: Create value for customers by observing how people do things, finding ways to help make their lives easier, integrating that into their day-to-day life for better decision-making.

Guiding principles: It’s all about the people, whether you’re providing a service, creating a technology or manufacturing a product. You have to know which factors are the intrinsic motivators and which are the extrinsic motivators or hygiene factors.

Yardstick of success: Measure my success in life by the good that comes out of what we create , for our people, for our customers, for the industry.

Goals yet to be achieved: Introduce the next generation of technology and mobile applications productivity advancements for the enterprise.


Best business decision: The decision to drive and focus on the customer experience as a top priority.

Worst business decision: Going along with an acquisition without enough information to know how tough it would be to integrate into our product environment.

Toughest business decision: Having to close down a part of the business when it no longer made sense to sustain it.

Biggest missed opportunity: Neglecting to sell Qualcomm stock at the peak.

Mentors: My parents, Raymond and Jane Tang, my husband, and Irwin Jacobs (Qualcomm’s founder).

Words that describe you: Passionate, driven, collaborative.


Reason for getting into the high-tech business: It is an exciting industry, dynamic and growing.

What you like best about the high-tech business: Being able to transform someone’s lifestyle and/or business.

What you like least about the high-tech business: Speculative technology announcements can create confusion in the market when it comes to real value.

How the high-tech business has changed: It has gone from a more technology focus to a more person/business-centric model, including more options for customization and personalization.

Pet peeve: People who misuse their position to exert influence.

Most important lesson learned: Happiness is a state of mind; it is all about the journey.

Person most interested in meeting, living or dead: Benjamin Franklin.

Most-respected competitor: We give all our competition the respect they’ve earned from the marketplace, but our biggest competition is lack of adoption.

Three greatest passions: Improving the quality of life through technology, employee development, leadership.

First choice for a new career: Executive coaching.


I’m currently reading: “The Paradox of Excellence: How Great Performance Can Kill Your Business,” by Dave Mosby and Michael Weissman.

Favorite quote: “A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves” , Lau Tzu, sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher, founder of Taoism.

Favorite cause: Learning and development.

Most influential book: “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins.

Favorite status symbol: Working for Qualcomm.

Favorite movie: “Forrest Gump,” because he always chose to make the best of every circumstance, to have a positive attitude, and to do the right thing.

Favorite restaurant: George’s at the Cove.

Favorite place for business meetings: The Estancia, La Jolla and the Marriott, Del Mar.

Favorite vacation spot: Hawaii , Maui, Oahu, Kauai.

Favorite automobile: Lexus G430.

Favorite place to go in San Diego: La Jolla Cove.


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