He joined ARM in 1994 to set up ARM's consulting business. He was Vice President, Business Operations from February 1998. In October 2000 he was appointed to the Board as Chief Operating Officer and in October 2001 was appointed Chief Executive Officer. Before joining ARM he was with Texas Instruments.

He is a chartered engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Companion of the Chartered Management Institute. He has an honorary doctorate from Cranfield University and is a member of the UK Trade and Investment Executive Board for Technology, responsible for driving the UK's trade and investment objectives in the telecoms and IT sectors. He is a non-executive director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of De La Rue plc.

Warren also came top in the recent UK Tech 50 run by Computer Weekly.

ARM Holdings plc is a British multinational semiconductor and software design company with headquarters in Cambridge, England. Its largest business is in processors, although it also designs software development tools under the RealView and Keil brands, systems and platforms, system-on-a-chip infrastructure and software. It is considered to be market dominant in the field of mobile phone chips based on the ARM architecture and is arguably the best-known of the ‘Silicon Fen’ companies.

The company was founded as Advanced RISC Machines, ARM, a joint venture between Acorn Computers, Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) and VLSI Technology. The new company intended to further the development of the Acorn RISC Machine’s RISC chip, which was originally used in the Acorn Archimedes and had been selected by Apple for their Newton project. The design was flexible and is now the processing core for many custom application-specific integrated circuits.

Chief executive Warren East admits there has been “an element of luck” in his firm’s success. Nobody - not even ARM - predicted the meteoric rise of the smartphone. “We knew phones were going to be high volume,” he tells me. “But we didn’t expect them to be as high volume as they turned out to be.”

Despite its blistering rise, ARM tries to keep a low profile. It has, for instance, resisted the temptation to open a London office: “Cambridge is just up the road,” says East when we meet in the West End offices of his PR firm.

He has been at ARM for 17 years, with over a decade spent as chief executive, making him, in some respects, the archetypal Company Man. But he is refreshingly open, very much from the British - rather than American - school of management, willing to discuss the thornier issues.

East is slight and unassuming; smart but not showy - he still carries an iPhone 3, which seems a tad incongruous for one of the telecoms industry’s most influential men. He is also half Welsh, although you wouldn’t guess from talking to him - he is still bitter after visiting his home country to watch his side lose to France in the rugby last week. He joined ARM from chip maker Texas Instruments and his engineering background lends him an infectious fascination for his industry: “I’ve spent my life in semiconductors and quite a lot of it in microprocessors. Engineering is very satisfying; it’s fundamentally a creative thing.”

ARM out its eggs in the mobile basket as early as the mid-1990s, buoyed by a contract with then-market leader Nokia for a new digital handset. Now every major manufacturer, from RIM to Samsung to Motorola, uses its chips. The real driver, though, the thing that transformed smartphones from a promising experiment to the forefront of consumer electronics was, of course, the iPhone.

“It was such a big step forward, in terms of where the market was that it stimulated a huge amount of competition. Without the iPhone we wouldn’t have things like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and clearly we have benefited from the smartphone evolution.”

ARM designed the processors inside Apple’s iPhone and iPad, a deal that has catapulted it into the spotlight. East is, however, reticent about his relationship with the Cupertino-based firm: "They really don’t like people talking about them."