With the news of the passing of Bob Galvin, the man who built Motorola into a global leader in pagers, cell phones, and infrastructure, it's a good time to recall some of the conversations I had with him when I was doing research for my book, Why Smart Executives Fail. You can access some highlights of the case here. Bob was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of Motorola's board of directors at the time when he agreed to a series of interviews with me. Of the some 200 CEOs, board members and other senior leaders I spoke to, my recollections of our conversations stand out today.
Why? Rather than come up with all sorts of excuses about why Motorola lost its way when mobile technology shifted from analog to digital in the 1990s, Bob made it clear that "we really missed it." He was not CEO, but he felt personally responsible. He told me about how, when he was a child, his father (the founder of Motorola) would come home from the office and they would sit around the kitchen table talking about what happened that day.
Bob's description of the Motorola culture on his watch was, "a healthy spirit of discontent." And yes, he did ruefully acknowledge that by the time of the cell phone debacle (Motorola went from 60% market share and industry dominance to a bit player that still hasn't recovered), that the culture was long gone. That his son, Chris Galvin, was one of the people responsible for the cell phone collapse made him sad, but he also didn't shy away from questions on the subject.
Today, when we see how Research in Motion continues to live in a bubble of their own making, first laughing about the iPhone, later arguing that it was for a different customer when it became clear the iPhone was here to stay, we are reminded of how a stand up CEO deals with adversity and change.