Zander already was one of Silicon Valley’s best-known executives during his stint as the president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems when he joined Motorola as CEO. Zander has changed the tempo of business at Motorola, emphasizing prompt product deliveries to clients, previously a major problem for a company once known for leaving phone service providers on hold as they awaited the latest handset models.
But according to Zander, the company’s need for speed is just half the story. The application of patience, he says, is equally important when running one of the world’s 100 largest companies. And far from hewing to the popular image of the new CEO who restores order like a sheriff arriving in town, Zander says he has spent much of his time at Motorola listening, to both clients and employees, examining the company’s diverse business lines, and analyzing the state of the market. “It takes you a while,” he says, “just to learn the people and the culture, especially a company this size.” (Motorola has 65,000 employees.) Zander says he spent about half of his first year studying the company’s habits: “How products go out the door, how decisions get made, how the company runs, what is the operating culture of the company. The cultural part of the company, what’s good, what’s not good. It was like [earning] a Ph.D in six months.”
Meanwhile, industry observers, analysts, and investors were looking for instant results. “The tendency is to do knee-jerk reactions, just to show progress,” Zander says. “I was on the job for two weeks, and they wanted to know my strategy. They wanted me to lay 5,000 people off in January last year, just for the sake of it, just because that sounds good. Give me a break.”
Instead, Zander carefully picked his spots, and stressed urgency in operations but careful planning on the strategy side and it seems to be working. “Motorola is performing impressively under its new executive,” declared Business Week in August 2004.
Zander went on to earn an MBA from Boston University, and worked for a pair of technology companies, Apollo Computer and Data General, before joining Sun, one of Silicon Valley’s signature companies, in 1987. Zander served as president of Sun’s software group, before becoming president and COO. Without realistic hope of replacing Sun’s CEO, Scott McNealy, he left in 2002, joining Silver Lake Partners, a private equity group. Motorola came calling in late 2003, and within a couple of months, he had settled into the firm’s headquarters, in Schaumburg, Ill.
The challenge at Motorola is complex one of Zander’s “unstructured problems,” but one on a global scale. Zander signed on to a company with a wealth of products, research assets, and a large patent portfolio. But Motorola’s size and its heritage made it a difficult place to change course.
Indeed, Motorola is one of the most storied companies in the history of American technology. Founded in Chicago in 1928 as the Galvin Manufacturing Corp. by a pair of brothers, Paul and Joseph Galvin, the firm quickly produced one of the first car radios to gain public acceptance the Motorola, which became the company name in 1947. That is also the year the company introduced its first television set, an inexpensive model that sold over 100,000 units within a year.
Since then, Motorola’s products have appeared in some prominent places in American history and culture. On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong announced from the moon that he was taking “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he did so using a Motorola transponder. Closer to home, tens of millions of Americans may have noticed both coaches in February’s Super Bowl wearing Motorola headsets the company provides communications for the National Football League, right down to the pager the referee wears alerting him to instant-replay challenges.
The technological development with the biggest impact on Motorola’s current business, however, came in 1984, when the firm brought the world’s first hand-held cellular telephone to the commercial market. Weighing nearly two pounds, it would now seem heavy and clunky, but at the time was a breakthrough. Overseas competitors soon surged forward in the cell-phone business in the 1990s, however, and when Zander took over Motorola, he worked to strengthen their number two position in the world’s cell phone market, behind Finland’s Nokia.
Today, roughly half of Motorola’s revenues come from mobile phones. The company also provides wireless infrastructure for telecommunications firms, and operates a broadband business that manufactures modems and cable set-top boxes. And there are still-vital branches of the firm stemming from its famous past. Dozens of governments around the world use Motorola’s two-way radios and communications devices for security purposes, while its line of electronics for automobiles, having jumpstarted the company in the first place, is still thriving.
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