BY RICK BELL
Though Qualcomm Inc. co-founder Irwin Jacobs donated an astounding $60 million this year to an overseas university and an Ivy League school in New York, he still believes there’s plenty of opportunity for philanthropic endeavors in San Diego.
“The causes grow faster than contributors,” said Jacobs, 73, who retired as the Fortune 500 company’s chief executive officer in July 2005, handing the reins to his son, Paul. “We’re all aware of the needs in San Diego.”
The elder Jacobs, who remains Qualcomm’s chairman of the board, and his wife, Joan, donated $30 million to establish the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Graduate School at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The gift, announced Nov. 3, was made to the American Technion Society and helped the New York-based organization pass its decade-long campaign goal of raising $750 million for Technion.
Similarly, Jacobs established a $30 million scholarship and fellowship endowment with Cornell University’s College of Engineering to support the education of undergraduate and graduate students. Though educational philanthropy is particularly important to Jacobs, the contribution to Technion has business implications as well, he said.
“I’ve had a long involvement with Technion,” Jacobs said of the institute, noting the relationship pre-dates his founding of Qualcomm in 1985 to his days at Linkabit, the groundbreaking high-tech company he co-founded with local philanthropist Andrew Viterbi in San Diego in 1968.
Technion faculty members have spent sabbaticals at Qualcomm, and the local high-tech firm set up an R & D; facility near the institute.
“It’s an absolutely outstanding school,” Jacobs said. “There are various reasons it is important to us and to Israel. We have a number of their graduates working for us in Israel and here in San Diego.”
Giving To Alma Mater
The gift to Cornell from Jacobs, who graduated from the Ithaca, N.Y., university in 1956, will provide $750,000 annually to Irwin and Joan Jacobs graduate fellows in the university’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and an additional $750,000 annually to undergraduate Jacobs Scholars. More than 30 Jacobs Scholars and around 15 Fellows will be named annually.
“Faculty is very important,” said Jacobs, who also has donated an estimated $133 million during the past two decades to UCSD and $14.5 million to San Diego State University. “We’ve supported faculty chairs and now we’re concentrating on scholarships and fellowships at the university level. K-12 also is important to us. Our son (Gary Jacobs) is involved with High-Tech High here in San Diego.”
Though Jacobs has amassed great wealth since moving to San Diego, he knows firsthand the struggles encountered by college students.
“I got through school thanks to scholarships,” he said. “I was from what you would consider a lower-middle-class family, and we didn’t have a lot of money. I was the first in my family to finish college. Scholarship aid is important to young people.”
Jacobs noted he’s also selective in his giving. The organization must prove it is providing educational, cultural or social needs, he said.
“We meet the people involved and get into their activities,” he said. “It’s something of a gut reaction, but it’s not instantaneous. We have plenty of discussions afterward.”
Since businessman Warren Buffett announced his intentions to donate 85 percent of his $44 billion fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earlier this year, Jacobs has seen a renewed interest in philanthropy.
“That was spectacular,” Jacobs said of Buffett’s donation. “I think his action caused some people to think about philanthropy. Maybe if we see it in the press, it raises more awareness.”
Jacobs sees a tremendous amount of personal philanthropy in San Diego but hinted that business could do more.
“There are fewer Fortune 500 companies here; many banks that used to support the community have moved,” he said. “But some of the casinos have been picking up where they left off.
“Personal philanthropy in the region is increasing in its amount. I think when people move here they realize it’s time for them to focus on philanthropy.”
Yet philanthropy isn’t Jacobs’ sole focus. He stepped up his ongoing relationship with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where he is incoming chairman of the board, for personal reasons.
“Salk does reasonably well,” he said. “Most of its operating funds come from the National Institute for Health. There is a private endowment, but we have to look to philanthropy to continue the work being done there.”
Jacobs said he’s proud to play a philanthropic role in furthering the opportunities and goals of educational institutions and organizations such as Salk.
“It’s nice to be in a position to do so,” he said. “I enjoy working with these organizations.”
Rick Bell is a freelance writer living in Poway.