Motorola plots its comeback as cellphone icon

Earlier this month, Motorola finally reached an agreement with Icahn. Under the terms of the deal, Icahn got two board seats. One will be held by Keith Meister, managing director of Icahn's investment funds, and the other by William Hambrecht, CEO of WR Hambrecht & Co. Both men are allowed to share confidential board discussions with Icahn, an unusual arrangement that will give him maximum insight into the company's thinking and plans.

In return, Icahn agreed to drop all litigation and stop bad-mouthing management. (There's a non-disparagement clause in the deal, something usually reserved for former employees and bitter divorce cases.)

Asked to comment on the impact of Icahn over the past year, Brown takes a pass: "We thought it was a good arrangement with good conditions that allow us to be more focused," he says.

Under the terms of the agreement, Icahn can weigh in on candidates who are being considered for CEO of the new devices company. Brown, without offering any barbs in Icahn's direction, makes it clear the concession is purely window dressing.

"We will select the leader for mobile devices," he says flatly, adding for emphasis: "Management will select."

As for that clause, "Sure," Brown says, a frozen smile affixed to his face, "he can certainly offer us an opinion."

Icahn did not respond to an interview request.

Brown also has little to say about his 10-month stint as Motorola's chief operating officer. Zander put him into the job in March 2007. With Brown's blessing, Motorola froze prices on mobile handsets sold in big, emerging markets such as India. Nokia and other carriers pounced, cutting prices across the board, recalls Roger Entner, a senior vice president at IAG Research. Motorola's "global market share melted like a snowball," he says.

Brown says the pricing decision was "solid," adding that Motorola's problems at the time "were around products, not pricing."

An instructive journey

As painful as Motorola's journey has been lately, Brown says it's also been instructive. "It's all about consistency and the width and breadth of the (wireless) portfolio, rather than trying to be a hit-driven business," he says somberly.

On a positive note, he says, there's still a lot of life left in Motorola, which, bruises and all, remains one of the grand names in American technology. "Motorola is still a huge business and an iconic company," Brown says.

If things go according to plan — and Brown says he's confident they will — the mobile business could again find itself on the leading edge of wireless, setting the pace of global innovation for the next century and beyond.

"I see a vibrant, very successful mobile-device business with a fresh portfolio that is aggressive and competing effectively" in the global market, Brown says. "These elements, I think, will allow it to compete ferociously in the future."

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