The once mighty Moto handset division is still looking for the SLVR bullet.
Maybe it should settle for a MINR MRCL*.
Motorola Chief Executive Greg Brown is actively recruiting a new leader for its troubled handset division. Appartently, he doesn’t believe he has the necessary talent internally and must look outside.
Brown told analysts at a recent Morgan Stanley technology conference that he has been devoting 80% of his time to the Mobile Devices division and is personally involved in a search for an executive to head the division. The hunt for a new leader comes as Motorola continues to be plagued by rumors that it is considering a restructuring that could involve selling or spinning off the entire handset unit.
And guess what, Motorola’s friend Carl Icahn is back, armed with more Motorola stock and a renewed commitment to get the Schaumburg, Ill., company to divest itself of the handset division.
What an unfortunate little mess this is turning into. If I were to read between the lines, I suspect that the handset division is really in worse shape than we thought. In the last year, the division’s executive revolving door has seen Ron Garrigues jump ship to Dell, followed by a dual interim command that ultimately went to Stu Reed who has now stepped down. And now the 47-year-old Brown is turning to monster.com.
But the main problem here is no one will commit to a fate for the beleaguered handset division, not even Brown himself.
To be fair, at a reception at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Brown reportedly said, “I don’t want there to be any confusion. Motorola is fully committed to the mobile devices business and I am fully committed to mobile devices.”
For wishful thinkers, that implies commitment. But back stateside, rumors continue to swirl that the company will spin off or sell the division. Where is Brown to clear up that confusion? For the skeptics, Brown’s MWC comment could simply mean the company is committed to doing what it needs to do in order to fix handsets, even if that means selling off the division.
Regardless, this type of uncertainty is not going to draw many seriously resume-d individuals. Even if Motorola finds someone willing to shoulder the fearsome responsibilities, the individual will clearly be a marked man or woman. The time for a turnaround in the handset division is probably limited to calendar months, not fiscal years. Given the complexities of the industry, the overall handset business climate and Motorola itself, it could take six month simply to hire the necessary executive team to help mend this broken business and to get momentum going with the current internal players and corporate structure.
Heading up Mobile Devices, as Greg Brown must well-recognize, is too big of a job for one person. This job needs a number of highly skilled individuals who understand mobile phones, wireless devices and computing devices. They also need to be quick studies in Motorola business and corporate policies/politics.
The company in general and the division specifically need to forget its history with the RAZR. Clinging to that swing-for-the-fences history only engenders a sense that there is one single SLVR bullet. The sooner the company embraces the fact that there is not one killer product or platform, it might have a chance of resurrecting its dominance in the category.
But baby steps first; the company needs to get back in the game. I have been a loyal Motorola customer for years. However, recently, while shopping for a new handset, I wondered who would ultimately own the device maker in nine months if I had a problem with my device. I bought from another handset maker. I wonder how many other industry folks feel that way and may be passing that sentiment on to family, friends and customers.
Motorola started as a 2-way radio company with a stellar reputation. It took a little transition time to become a notable cellular handset company. What it hasn’t been able to effectively do is become a well-known consumer electronics (CE) company, at least not in the way that other handset companies such as Nokia have been able to do.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the CE-like devices such as wireless headsets, wireless apparel and sunglasses are downright cool. But the Moto name doesn’t automatically spring to consumer minds in that regard. So the company should return to its roots of communications tools. It is a mobile handset maker, nothing more, nothing less. Get that right in the next 24 months and then perhaps it can cautiously revisit the CE angle when it makes more sense, if ever.
Finally, I would work on the corporate culture and the morale there. Any company that has experienced such bipolar financial quarters has to be suffering from a crisis of corporate confidence internally. Stem the flow of executive and engineering talent. Get people excited about working in Motorola’s handset division again. Everything else will fall into place.