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Technically, Samueli Is Leaving Mark Backing Arts

ANN CONWAY

April 13, 1999|ANN CONWAY

Suddenly, Henry Samueli is at the top of every nonprofit organization's wish list.

Co-founder of Broadcom Corp. in Irvine--a computer-communication chip manufacturing company that made him a billionaire after it went public last year--Samueli, 44, is being "overwhelmed with requests for donations, board positions--you name it--they're just flowing in," he said.

Requests heated up after his business partner, Henry Nicholas, donated $1.3 million to South Coast Repertory in January.

"Henry and I are both very active in deciding what we want to do with our good graces of net worth," said Samueli, who lives with his wife, Susan, in San Juan Capistrano. "There are many things on our plates and we each have a different vision."

So far, Henry Samueli and his wife have made donations to Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo ($3 million), Opera Pacific ($50,000), the Orange County Performing Arts Center (to which he gave an undisclosed amount and joined the board of directors) and others.

And there's more to come.

"There are several large [financial] commitments in the works that I can't make public yet," said Samueli, an electrical engineer who is on leave from a teaching position at UCLA. "I can just hint that they are related to educational purposes. I personally am very involved in educational goals. Everything I am today is a result of the education I have received."

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Samueli moved to Los Angeles when he was 10 and later attended Fairfax High School in West Hollywood. He went on to UCLA, "where I got all of my degrees--bachelor's, master's and Ph.D," he said.

After working for five years at defense contractor TRW, Samueli returned to UCLA to teach electrical engineering full-time.

He and Nicholas, 39, founded Broadcom in Westwood in 1991, then moved the company to the Irvine Spectrum in 1995. "I love it here," he said.

Besides the requests for money, the Samuelis are being courted with invitations to high-profile social events.

Last week, for example, they were invited to attend a dinner at the Center Club in Costa Mesa hosted by Martin Hubbard--executive director of Opera Pacific--and a performance of Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment" at Segerstrom Hall.

"We're trying to make him a friend of the opera," Hubbard said. "Certainly, either Henry or Susan would be a great addition to our board. Henry has said he wants to begin to set an example [of philanthropic involvement] for the new, high-tech business communities that are developing here."

It was after Hubbard invited him to his first opera in early March that Samueli gave $50,000 to the company to help produce "Brundibar"--an opera for children that will be presented at the Irvine Barclay Theatre May 19-25.

Performing arts center executives also had hopes that Samueli would inspire philanthropy among others within the high-tech industry when they recruited him for their board of directors.

"We wanted access to new high-tech companies--that was a primary motivating factor [in inviting Samueli to join the board]," said Terry Jones, the center's vice president of development. "Henry has that instant panache with high-tech companies that we are all courting."

His newfound wealth also has Samueli learning about the price of being honored at a fund-raising event.

The Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee will present him with its National Human Relations Award at the Four Seasons Hotel on April 22.

He's happy to be honored, Samueli said, but he was surprised to find out that a donation to the committee was part of the package. "I learned that after the fact," he said. "But I believe in the cause--it's one I'm willing to associate my name with."

For Samueli and his wife, a perfect night on the town begins with a simple dinner--"We're not big fans of eating out," he admitted--and ends with a night at Segerstrom Hall.

"The performing arts center has really been a wonderful experience for us," Samueli said.

And, while he enjoys sitting in a theater with thousands of other arts lovers, Samueli is helping develop the technology that may allow millions to watch such events at home.

Broadcom wants to improve the link between the Internet and the televisions of the world--a goal the high-tech industry is working toward.

"What you're seeing now is people starting to get the feeling of using interactive computers--for example, using the Internet to go online and search the Web for something interesting," Samueli said.

"You can take that to the next level where you merge that with your TV set. You get the ability to have interactive programming content where you choose what you want to view--just like you now choose what you want to look up on the Internet."

Today, television is a "broadcast-only medium," he observed. "You choose from different channels and that's about it. But in the future, you're going to be able to tailor that programming experience to be exactly what you want."

Imagine it: dialing up a Broadway show at Segerstrom Hall. An opera at La Scala in Milan, Italy.

"You'll be able to just dial up and watch--for a fee, of course," Samueli said. "But the larger the viewing audience, the lower the price will be."

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