THE INSTITUTE The lack of an engineering role model while he was growing up didn't hinder Broadcom cofounder Henry Samueli [above] from having a storied engineering career. Samueli founded the company in 1991 with one of his Ph.D. students, Henry T. Nicholas, while he was an engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The two conceived digital signal processing architectures for broadband communications chips and designed the world's first chips for digital interactive television. After forming Broadcom, they built the world's first digital cable set-top-box modem chipset, which served as the cable signal receiver for the digital box, according to a 1999 profile of Samueli in IEEE Spectrum.
Today Broadcom is one of the largest producers of chips used in communications and networking equipment. Based in San Jose, Calif., the company merged with Avago Technologies in 2016. Samueli stepped down as chief technology officer in 2018 and now serves as chairman of the board.
Samueli and his wife Susan together run the Samueli Foundation. It funds a variety of programs including those focused on science, technology, engineering, and math education. Photo: Samueli Foundation
Samueli is also a well-known philanthropist. Forbes estimates his worth to be more than US $6 billion, and he and his wife, Susan, are members of the Giving Pledge. The group consists of many of the world's leading philanthropists, who promise to give away the majority of their money during their lifetime.
The couple are doing that through the Samueli Foundation, which supports science, technology, engineering, and math education; integrative health; youth services; and social justice programs, mostly in California. The foundation has funded projects with grants ranging from $5,000 to $200 million.
“It is important for philanthropists to find a focus for their giving," Samueli says. “There are too many great things out there that need support and too many interesting projects to fund, so you just have to focus and narrow your vision. If you gave a dollar to every person in the world, you would have given away $7 billion and accomplished very little. Or you can focus and give much larger gifts to a few programs that will have a huge impact."
The IEEE Fellow has received many honors, including this year's IEEE Founders Medal for “leadership in research, development, and commercialization of broadband communication and networking technology with global impact." The medal is sponsored by the IEEE Richard and Mary Jo Stanley Memorial Fund of the IEEE Foundation. Samueli is scheduled to receive his award during this year's IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit and Honors Ceremony, to be held virtually from 11 to 13 May.
“I'm very humbled," Samueli says. “It's an incredible honor for me to be included in this remarkable group of individuals."
Samueli has been generous to his alma mater, UCLA, among other institutions. He earned a bachelor's degree at UCLA in 1975, a master's degree in 1976, and a doctorate in 1980, all in electrical engineering. He was also inducted into UCLA's IEEE Eta Kappa Nu honor society's Iota Gamma Chapter. In 2019, Samueli was elevated to IEEE-HKN Eminent Member.
He became an EE professor at the university in 1985. He has supervised research programs there in broadband communications circuits and digital signal processing. He took a leave of absence from UCLA in 1995 to be at Broadcom full time.
UCLA's engineering school in 2000 was named after him after he donated $30 million. In 2019 the Samueli Foundation donated $100 million more. It was the school's largest gift ever, according to a UCLA news release. The university said it would use the money to expand the engineering school and hire more faculty members.
Samueli doesn't give anonymously. He and his wife believe it is important to have their philanthropy be visible because, he says, “We want to set an example and motivate others to get involved in philanthropy and be proud to show it."
Another university that has benefited from his generosity is the University of California, Irvine. In 2017 the Samueli Foundation donated $200 million, the largest gift in the university's history. The gift was used for the construction and endowment of the Susan and Henry Samueli college of health sciences, which is focused on interdisciplinary integrative health. UCI also reported that the Samuelis provided $30 million in funding toward the construction of an interdisciplinary science and engineering building, which opened in February.
Samueli says he's a big believer in collaborating with researchers who have other areas of expertise. That's how his early research at UCLA—which ultimately led to Broadcom—came about, he says.
“We assembled a small group of faculty and wrote a successful proposal to DARPA in the late 1980s to develop innovative CMOS radio communication technology," he recalls. “This was one of the first interdisciplinary research projects in our department, and it set a great foundation for future collaborative work.
“With so many societal grand challenges that have to be addressed in the areas of climate, energy, and health care, no one person or even one department has the knowledge to address all the different aspects," he says. “This new interdisciplinary science and engineering building at UCI spans not only engineering but also computer science and the physical sciences."
Another program close to Samueli's heart is the Samueli Academy, in Santa Ana, Calif., an underserved community in Orange County. The public charter school is for middle school and high school students, some of whom live in foster-care homes. Samueli says the school uses a project-based learning approach, whereby students collaborate to solve complex problems using critical thinking. The approach encourages creativity, he says, and the school also focuses on oral and written communication skills.
“Many are pursuing STEM careers," he proudly says of the school's alumni. “It's all because of this hands-on project-based learning curriculum."
He says he has seen firsthand what underserved students can achieve when given the right tools. The academy's graduation rate is 99 percent, and 97 percent of the students go on to attend either a two-year or four-year college, he reports.
Samueli himself came from a humble background. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who emigrated after surviving the Holocaust. He grew up in Los Angeles and as a teenager worked in his parents' liquor/grocery store, where he stocked shelves, operated the cash register, and helped out with the bookkeeping.
A hands-on project inspired him to become an engineer, he says. In a seventh-grade shop class at Bancroft Middle School, in Los Angeles, he built an AM/FM shortwave radio using a Heathkit DIY electronics kit. His teacher predicted that Samueli would become an electrical engineer, according to the IEEE Spectrum profile. It was the first time Samueli had heard of such a profession.
Samueli says he and Nicholas divided the responsibilities of Broadcom early on. Samueli was the CTO, and Nicholas took on the role of CEO. They hired seasoned professionals to do jobs they had no experience in, such as finances, human resources, and marketing. As the company grew, they brought in Scott A. McGregor, a more experienced leader, to be chief executive. Since the merger with Avago, that role has been held by Hock E. Tan.
“In the early days of a startup, having common sense and good judgment carries you a long way," Samueli says. “The most important thing is developing good technology and building a customer base. It isn't until you become more mature and start growing your revenues that you need to think more about how to properly structure the organization and add general and administrative functions.
“Companies go through phases," he says. “It's important to have the right leadership at the right time to take you through those phases."
Samueli uses the same theory of hiring experienced people in his role as owner of the National Hockey League's Anaheim Ducks.
“It's all about recruiting a great management team," he says. “I empower them to be successful. I don't try to do their job for them. You have to let the experts do their job."
IEEE: AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE
Samueli joined IEEE when he was a UCLA undergraduate, he says, because he wanted to have access to research of faculty and students from around the world.
''The only way to get that access was to subscribe to IEEE journals," he says. “Plus, IEEE gave tremendous discounts to students, so it cost almost nothing. The subscription was critical in the early days of my research program."
IEEE conferences were a central part of his early research career, he says, and gave him opportunities to interact with colleagues from the fields of circuits and systems and solid-state circuits.
Samueli made sure Broadcom had a subscription to the entire IEEE Xplore Digital Library so the company's engineers could have online access to all the publications.
“As an R&D engineer you can't survive without access to the IEEE library," he says. “IEEE plays an important role, not only in universities but also in technology companies, by being a key repository of the latest research publications."
Samueli donated the full cash prize of the IEEE Founders medal, $10,000, to the Awards Program Fund of the IEEE Foundation.
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This article was updated on 6 October 2021.
Kathy Pretz is editor in chief for The Institute, which covers all aspects of IEEE, its members, and the technology they're involved in. She has a bachelor's degree in applied communication from Rider University, in Lawrenceville, N.J., and holds a master's degree in corporate and public communication from Monmouth University, in West Long Branch, N.J.