Motorola plots its comeback as cellphone icon

How? By "implementing a range of operational improvements that will result in better accountability," Brown says.

One example is marketing. Brown says the marketing function in the handset group has been rolled back into the division, giving it more control over its own fate. Likewise, he says, governance and product lineup are now under the direct supervision of the unit.

The autonomy is "energizing" the workforce, he says. By the time the unit is spun off a year or so from now, Brown says, he expects the division to be churning out cool new products at a rapid clip.

Breaking the mold

Brown's enthusiasm aside, it's unclear how any of that addresses Motorola's fundamental problem, which can be boiled down to three words: no hot products.

To survive, Jackson says, Motorola's handset division needs not only to come up with a raft of cool new products, but also to break the mold. That's the only way Motorola can make itself relevant to a finicky, and increasingly sophisticated, consumer market, he says.

"They're going to have to emerge looking more like an Apple, aapl with the capability of launching lots of products" that appeal to a wide range of users, he says.

Brown doesn't disagree. He faults "inconsistent execution" in the handset business for a lot of Motorola's troubles.

Mobile devices for years were "more technology-led than consumer-led," he says. Technology-led products are "built around what's possible," Brown explains. Consumer devices "are built around what people want."

That's what Motorola did with its most famous product, the Razr, which it launched in late 2004. The Razr's sleek design redefined the cellphone as a personal statement, turning the handset-design world on its head.

But Motorola was slow to jump on the smartphone trend, which uses advanced 3G, or third-generation, technology. Brown says the void left Motorola with a product line that was heavy with Razr look-alikes but thin on devices that tapped into the power and reach of the mobile Web. In the USA, the iPhone is considered the standard-setter in that category.

"Once you miss one of those (technology) cycles, it's really hard to catch up," Brown says.

Investors are wondering whether the new cellphone company will get the iconic Motorola brand name. Asked to comment, Brown initially parries — ever so slightly — then offers tacit confirmation: "The Motorola brand is really important to devices," he says. "My feeling is that it really means a lot to the (handset) division."

Brown is quick to expound on Motorola's big brand name and product lineup, which currently includes a crush of new smartphones, including one that can morph into a cellphone, music player or video player. But he practically goes rigid when the subject turns to one of Motorola's most visible problems over the past year: Carl Icahn.

Tussling with Icahn

Before he was asked to step down by the Motorola board, former CEO Ed Zander spent a year beating back a proxy fight by Icahn, who owns more than 6% of the company. By the time Brown took over, Icahn was gearing up for Round 2, vowing to stage another proxy fight with the goal of grabbing four seats on Motorola's 14-member board. Icahn also threatened a lawsuit, accusing Brown and the Motorola board of mismanaging the business.

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