Alumni Profile – Norm Fjeldheim

Norm Fjeldheim had just quit college and his father was not happy.

Fjeldheim was enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s College of Architecture, but he realized that he wasn’t happy there. After a couple of years, he left the university.

“My parents were not thrilled,” said Fjeldheim. “My dad told me that if I quit school, I would be on my own if I decided to go back.”

For two years the Bay Area native lived at home and worked to save money and then decided to take the plunge into higher education again.

“I applied for SDSU’s College of Business Administration because I heard good things about the school,” Fjeldheim remembered. “Plus, I was ready to get really, really far away from the Bay Area.” 

Norm Fjeldheim

Once he was accepted at the university, he packed up his car and moved to San Diego. “That was in 1980,” he said. “I’ve been living in San Diego ever since.”

One of his most influential classes was an introductory computer/information systems course. Fjeldheim originally took the course because it was required, however, he says the professor, Dr. Nell Cooper, made this course so interesting that he switched his major from management to information systems.

Several years after graduating from SDSU in 1981, he joined M/A-COM which was founded by Irwin Jacobs. Jacobs had already left the company to form Qualcomm Inc. and, eventually, Fjeldheim’s supervisor left to join Jacobs at Qualcomm. In 1987, he persuaded Fjeldheim to join the company as Qualcomm’s first information technology (IT) employee. “There were less than 100 people at Qualcomm then,” recalled Fjeldheim.

After holding various roles within Qualcomm, Fjeldheim was named chief information officer (CIO) in 1999 – a position he held for 17 years. During his tenure, IT at Qualcomm grew to over 2,000 people, with teams located on 4 continents.

Last year, Fjeldheim left Qualcomm, and has since joined Illumina, another high-growth San Diego company in the biotech/life sciences industry. At Illumina, Fjeldheim is again leading the IT organization as the CIO, but has also taken on an additional role as the head of Illumina’s Global Facilities organization.

Fjeldheim has also carried his support of student interns from Qualcomm to Illumina. “Getting some work experience or an internship while in college in extremely valuable,” he said. “It can mean the difference in getting the job you want out of school or not.”

And while getting work experience is important, Fjeldheim says the most significant lesson that today’s SDSU business students should learn – and every business person should learn - is to successfully communicate. “The most important classes I had at SDSU were the business writing classes. Learning how to effectively communicate, both in public speaking and writing, took me further than any other class I had,” he said. “The most effective leaders I have met have all been effective communicators.”