Henry Samueli

Henry Samueli

Marconi Society Director

Dr. Henry Samueli, Broadcom Co-Founder, Chief Technology Officer and Chairman of the Board, is winner of the 2012 Marconi Society Prize and Fellowship. Samueli, whose work led to the explosive growth of the consumer broadband industry, was selected for his pioneering advances in the development and commercialization of analog and mixed signal circuits for modern communication systems.

Those innovations also built the foundation of Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom Corporation and enabled the company’s subsequent expansion into other markets such as Ethernet networking and wireless communications. Since its founding in 1991, Broadcom has grown to become one of the world’s leading innovators in communications semiconductors.

Winning the Marconi Prize is particularly appropriate for Samueli, whose career was inspired by an assignment to build a radio in his required seventh grade shop class at Hubert Howe Bancroft Middle School in Los Angeles. Assigned to build a simple crystal radio set, he chose a more challenging Heathkit shortwave radio instead. His teacher tried to convince him it was too difficult, but he tackled the project night after night, following the detailed instructions for soldering wires and assembling the radio piece by piece. On the last day of class he brought it in, plugged it to a wall socket, and, to his teacher’s astonishment, sound came out. That early success led to a lifelong interest in understanding—and improving—wireless communication.

The son of Holocaust survivors who arrived penniless in the U.S. in 1950, Samueli worked weekends in his family’s liquor store in East Los Angeles while attending middle school and high school as a stellar student. With his parents’ encouragement and financial support, he was accepted at UCLA, the only college to which he applied. The tuition was $600 a year and Samueli lived at home to save money—all the way through college, earning his bachelor’s degree (1975), master’s degree (1976), and Ph.D. (1980), all in electrical engineering.

He never wavered in his choice to become an electrical engineer. His first course in his major was a circuit theory class taught by a relatively new professor, Alan Willson. When Willson subsequently introduced the first graduate digital signal processing class at UCLA, Samueli, then a senior, jumped at the chance to attend. It was a life-changing event. He was hooked.

Samueli stood out from the beginning, according to Willson. Because he was such an exceptional student, he was permitted to take graduate level courses before finishing his undergraduate degree, and by the time he cashed in his credits for a B.S., he was already tackling his Ph.D. thesis.

Willson agreed to advise Samueli during his undergraduate studies and continued to advise him as he pursued his Ph.D. When they discussed thesis ideas, Willson suggested an idea for analyzing overflow oscillations in digital filters that he had toyed with unsuccessfully at Bell Labs. He didn’t really expect Samueli to run with it. But after several months Samueli reappeared in Willson’s office, delighting his advisor by having devised a workable solution to the extremely challenging problem.

After receiving his Ph.D., Samueli took a job at technology leader TRW (later merged into Northrop Grumman) working on military broadband communications systems. Willson invited him to take a part-time position as a visiting lecturer teaching a graduate-level digital filters course at the same time.
Samueli received exceptional teaching reviews from the start, and in 1985 he joined the UCLA faculty full-time as an assistant professor. He quickly rose through the ranks. His industrial career had yielded several interesting ideas to pursue and he quickly put together a team of researchers. He had a clear grasp of what was on the cutting edge of communications systems and set his group to work on big problems that attracted big funding—as well as numerous inquiries from companies interested in commercializing their technology.

The outside attention led Samueli and his colleagues to realize the potential of their work. He and Henry T. Nicholas, III, one of his former colleagues at TRW and his first Ph.D. student at UCLA, decided to start a company. Their practical experience working on the military electronics systems at TRW made it that much less risky. The challenge was not what to make, but how to make it cheap enough for mass-market commercial applications.

In August 1991, Samueli and Nicholas launched Broadcom. Their first major commercial customer was Scientific-Atlanta, which needed chips for an experimental digital cable TV set-top box. They quickly delivered an affordable chipset (re-engineered into a single chip just ten months later) for the world’s first commercially deployed digital cable TV receiver. Scientific-Atlanta and Broadcom announced a strategic partnership in 1994 to develop digital TV technology – a watershed moment for Samueli and his fledgling company, which then had just 24 employees.

Their next big success leveraged Samueli’s extraordinary digital signal processing (DSP) expertise. Competing for a chance at 3Com’s Ethernet business, Broadcom claimed it could create a 100BaseT4 Fast Ethernet chip using DSP techniques rather than purely analog approaches previously in use. No one believed them, but Broadcom delivered a working solution in just one year.
There were many more “firsts” and “fastests” to come, including becoming the first semiconductor company to enable the DOCSIS standards-based solution that now has nearly 100% adoption in the cable modem industry.
On April 17, 1998 Broadcom went public in a record-setting IPO. Samueli continued to serve as Co-Chairman and Chief Technical Officer, shaping Broadcom’s research and development activities while helping coordinate company-wide engineering development strategies. He continued to roll up his sleeves in the lab, too.

Since its IPO, Broadcom has continued its extraordinary trajectory and Samueli has enjoyed the opportunities afforded by its success. He and his wife Susan launched The Samueli Foundation in 1999, which thus far has donated more than $250 million. Because Samueli believes that education made him what he is today and that Broadcom would not exist without the education and experience he gained at UCLA, much of their philanthropy has to do with education, including endowing the engineering schools at UCLA and UC Irvine. They also founded the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman University in honor of Henry’s parents. Their foundation supports numerous science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs. Among his other honors, Samueli was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2000, a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2003, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004, and winner of The Global Semiconductor Alliance Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award in 2011.