Months before Cristiano Amon started as CEO of Qualcomm Inc., QCOM -1.01% he already was at work on his first crisis. To solve it, he sat in a mostly empty meeting room in Taipei and pleaded with executives from one of the world’s biggest semiconductor makers for more chips.
He needed the help so that Qualcomm, a designer of circuits that go into hundreds of millions of electronic devices every year, could chase new markets and meet demand from big customers such as Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and China’s top handset-makers. In fact, he needed the assistance so much that he got permission from the Taiwanese government to arrive in March and then waited through a three-day quarantine. Once he and his team got to the meeting place in a Taipei hotel, they negotiated with counterparts across a large room outfitted with microphones and speakers to communicate.
"I’m a very big believer that sometimes you have to meet folks in person," said Mr. Amon, who was named CEO in January and officially took over in June.
Many new CEOs across the business world had to adjust to their roles amid unprecedented pandemic-era restrictions, getting to know key employees without ever meeting them in person and managing offices and business relationships from far away. Few can say they had a more tumultuous transition than Mr. Amon, a gregarious Brazilian who revels in person-to-person contact.
He is juggling a cluster of major challenges—a global chip shortage, a sudden shift in a key market, and an unexpected acquisition opportunity—while trying to put his own stamp on a company after working there for more than two decades. He wants to focus on an expansion beyond Qualcomm’s core mobile-phone chip business, a shift that began before he took over.
"I’ve been doing many things in parallel and I want to succeed in them all," he said in an interview. "I can’t afford not to do them because we’re in a hurry."
The jury is out on Mr. Amon’s young tenure. Qualcomm’s stock has fallen to $127.84 as of Thursday’s close, from around $152 the day he was announced as the next CEO. Investors are worried about how long the company can benefit from a transition to the superfast, next-generation wireless standard known as 5G, and whether Apple will start making its own mobile-phone communication chips, said SMBC Nikko Securities America analyst Srini Pajjuri.
Mr. Amon’s pursuit of new markets is the right strategy, said Jeffrey Helfrich, a portfolio manager at Dallas-based Penn Davis McFarland, a firm with a Qualcomm stake that is among its largest holdings. But he said the company needs to stay on top technologically and avoid the return of old bugbears, including a legal battle with Apple over how royalties are collected on innovations in smartphone technology. Qualcomm and Apple resolved that fight in 2019.
"Do you think that their dispute with Apple is over forever? I don’t," he said.
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