As the newly minted chief executive of Broadcom, Scott McGregor surrounds his Irvine, Calif., office with circuit boards and cellphones powered by his company's chips.

Share story

As the newly minted chief executive of Broadcom, Scott McGregor surrounds his Irvine, Calif., office with circuit boards and cellphones powered by his company’s chips.

He likens the display to “show and tell” — a chance to give playmates a glimpse of his cool toys.

“That was my favorite part of school,” McGregor said.

Now 48, McGregor is still as giddy as a schoolboy when promoting his latest gadgets. First, there’s the digital TV circuit board, a panel fitted with Wheat Thins-size chips that are responsible for the crisp picture quality of a plasma TV.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Then, there’s the set-top box, its guts filled with wafers that help deliver your favorite TV show. Making those items hum, McGregor explains, is what he does for a living.

And, as he leads one of Orange County, Calif.’s largest technology companies, McGregor plans to “collect” more visuals for his show-and-tell display.

He has his work cut out for him. Broadcom rebounded last year from the dot-com bust, posting a record $2 billion in sales and posting its first profit since 1999. Still, analysts are predicting flat sales for Broadcom and the entire semiconductor industry for 2005.

McGregor is charged with maintaining Broadcom’s lead in set-top boxes, while gaining more momentum in providing chips for Bluetooth technologies, digital TVs and cellphones. He’s especially smitten with the latter, believing mobile phones will one day be used by the masses for playing digital music, taking pictures, shooting video and, oh yes, talking.

“The cellphone will be a Swiss Army knife of functionality,” said McGregor, who keeps a BlackBerry in his pocket.

McGregor talked about his vision for Broadcom during a recent interview.

Q:
How do you explain what you do to nontechies?

A:
We make the chip that makes your digital television work. Do you like the cable modem at home? Do you like high-speed Internet? We make the chip that makes that work. We touch people’s lives and we create the magic that enables people to communicate, from talking on the phone to using computers.

Q:
Speaking of computers, enterprise networking is your core division. Do you plan to expand there, or ramp up in other areas?

A:
We expect growth in all of our businesses, including networking products. What’s happening is more and more devices are becoming networked and the kind of products we create allows people to work more cost effectively. (He pulls out a circuit board the size of a small slate. Filled with Broadcom chips, the board can run all the data for a small company, replacing a giant mainframe.) This is dramatically cheaper and has better performance.

This is the kind of stuff that will make a difference for small- to medium-size businesses.

Q:
What excites you about Broadcom?

A:
The company has a real entrepreneurial spirit. There’s a lot of autonomy for the people. There’s a feeling that we can create new things and drive new markets, and so that’s the kind of entrepreneurial spirit I want to keep alive.


Q:
What kind of leader are you? A visionary, or a detail guy?

A:
I’m a mix. I like strategy. But if a group is not performing, it’ll see a lot more of me. If a group is performing, I think it’s important to give it autonomy.

Q:
You are coming in as Broadcom’s first “outside” leader. How does that help or hinder you?

A:
As an outsider, I haven’t been affiliated with Broadcom. But we’re in the same industry. (McGregor previously ran Philips Semiconductors.) Broadcom’s been a competitor of mine. Broadcom’s been a customer of mine.

At Philips, we sold to Broadcom. They are part of an industry I play in, and it’s a chance to move to a different square on the chessboard. And, from a different square on the chessboard, you see different opportunities and different threats.

Q:
You mentioned earlier that Broadcom was a demanding place to work. How so?

A:
I think the people here really enjoy their jobs and know they’re changing the industry. We hire the best and the brightest and we want to win.

Q:
What do you think about voice over IP (using the phone through the Internet)?

A:
Everybody believes that’s where things are headed. The technology is not quite ready for prime time. One of the things people want is to have a seamless handoff. So, I’m in my car talking on my cellular phone, and when I walk into my house, the phone switches to my Voice over IP and I wouldn’t know it.

Q:
When will it be ready for the masses?

A:
It requires the cooperation of the cellphone carriers and landline carriers.

Q:
How much technology has been kept from us because the big guys don’t want it because it will upset short-term numbers?

A:
This is a story that’s repeated itself. Take mainframes. You had IBM who couldn’t see its way to get into minicomputers because it would cut into its mainframe business. The companies that are brave enough to cannibalize their own business are the ones that will succeed.

Voice over IP is at that crux right now. The struggle is, how do you roll this out. Will the traditional guys get with the program fast enough?

Q:
Why are you so interested in cellphones?

A:
The cellphone is the ultimate convergence device. Eventually, you’ll download clips on everything from infomercials to weather and traffic conditions. Once the phone knows where it is (through GPS tracking), it will be able to tell you where the nearest restaurant is. This is exciting stuff, and we’re one of the few companies that can put that (technology) in one chip.

Q:
Is it a challenge to come into a job where things are going well, instead of walking into the debacle?

A:
Yes and no. This is a volatile enough industry. It’s always changing. It sort of doesn’t matter what it was when I came in. It’s what do I make of it after a few years here.