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Qualcomm Is Losing a Top Executive at a Key Time

August 25, 2017, 1:39 PM UTC

Qualcomm’s president, Derek Aberle, will step down at the end of the year, the mobile chip giant said on Thursday evening.

The departure marks the second high-level surprise change in the semiconductor industry after Intel (INTC) announced on Tuesday evening that group president and former chief financial officer Stacy Smith would retire.

Aberle, who worked at Qualcomm (QCOM) for 17 years, decided to leave as the company is the midst of huge legal battles with antitrust regulators around the world plus one of its largest customers, Apple (AAPL), that challenge its core business of charging royalties on mobile devices. But the company has been hinting that an out-of-court settlement with the iPhone maker may be near.

Qualcomm said another longtime veteran, executive vice president Alex Rogers, will begin reporting to CEO Steve Mollenkopf, likely setting him up to become the company’s number two executive.

Mollenkopf issued a statement praising Aberle. “I want to thank Derek for the vision, creativity, dedication, and judgment he brought to the company and wish him all the best in the future,” Mollenkopf said.

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Neither Mollenkopf nor Aberle, who said he was “very proud” of his work at Qualcomm, offered an explanation for the timing of the change.

Bernstein Research analyst Stacy Rasgon said the departure surprised him and could indicate deepening problems at Qualcomm.

“We are hard-pressed to imagine worse timing to exercise such an action, and the market is likely to view it as a clear negative given the deteriorating situation with (Apple) and other licensees,” Rasgon wrote in a note on Friday. “At a minimum it suggests to us that the pressures at the company are likely to get worse before they get better (otherwise why leave now?)”

Shares of Qualcomm, which have lost 19% so far this year, were up almost 1% in premarket trading.