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Motorola CEO Ed Zander: Catching the Wave of Prosperity

The Globalization Club, formerly the GO Club, hosted Ed Zander, chairman and CEO of Motorola, on Wednesday, November 2 at Harvard Business School’s Burden Auditorium. Mr. Zander touched on several topics during his talk, including his career progress, Motorola’s turnaround and its future prospects, the wireless industry, and the impact of globalization. He also provided personal career insight and advice to those in attendance, concluding with several questions from the audience.

Abhi Shah, President of the Globalization Club, kicked off the event by introducing Ed Zander to the audience. Zander began his speech by discussing his background and career progression. He started as an engineer before moving into marketing after receiving a part-time MBA from Boston University. In total he spent over 20 years in the Boston area, first working in technology before moving to the West Coast to join Sun Microsystems, where he eventually rose to the position of president and COO. From Sun, he moved on to private equity, serving as managing director at Silver Lake Partners. He was then recruited by Motorola to help turn around the ailing company.

Zander stated that he was fortunate to take part in several “big waves” throughout his career, including the mini-computer wave in the 80s and the Internet wave in the 90s while at Sun Microsystems. He saw an opportunity at Motorola to ride yet another wave: the mobile Internet, which was the driving force behind his decision to accept the CEO position.

Motorola was struggling when Zander joined in January 2004. While discussing the challenges he faced initially, Zander noted: “My predecessors did a good job of right-sizing the organization; my job was to revitalize the company.”

Zander did just that by completing the reorganization effort and refocusing on innovation and operational efficiency. This emphasis on innovation can be seen in many products recently introduced by Motorola, including the Razr and the Motorola Q. He also introduced the vision of “seamless mobility”-the ability for anyone to connect to the Internet while at home, work, in their car, or even walking down the street. Zander’s policies have dramatically impacted Motorola’s stock price, which has risen over 50 percent since he took over the company. While proud of his accomplishments to date, he cautions that Motorola still has some work to do in the next few years to become and remain a world-class company.

Mr. Zander also addressed the global implications for the wireless industry. He noted that while the mobile handset has become a pervasive, can’t-leave-home-without-it device globally, there is still significant opportunity for growth. The Motorola chief remarked that, “Two thirds of the world’s population has yet to make a phone call.” Because of this disparity, he believes that Motorola has a great opportunity to help the world become connected. Mr. Zander specifically mentioned China, India, Russia, and Brazil as four countries where Motorola expects significant growth in wireless usage, especially in rural areas.

Mr. Zander also discussed the negative coverage outsourcing and off shoring receives in the media, where it is often painted as unpatriotic. Zander stated that the practice is not at all new, referring to Motorola’s investment in factories and engineering operations in China since 1986. As a result of establishing this early footprint, Motorola is now a big player in China.

Zander also spoke on the emergence of developing economies and proposed that one of the main drivers of their growth is the duplication of some of the best practices in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. These practices include: emphasis on education, specifically on engineering and sciences with support from both the government and private sectors; good interaction between the private sector and the universities with regard to technology and innovation; and incentives for entrepreneurship and private industry growth. Zander warned that it is no longer a U.S.-centric world, and for the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge a reemphasis on education, specifically the technical disciplines, is necessary. To that end, Zander mentioned that the Motorola Foundation has made tens of millions of dollars worth of investments in education.

In conclusion, Zander left the audience with some career-specific advice. He preached the importance of being one’s own person, and warned against the hazards of trying to “act like someone else.” He also highlighted the specific qualities necessary for succeeding in business: courage, passion, risk taking, and confidence. He also encouraged the crowd to look at their future boss when considering assignments and remarked, “Who you work for in many cases is more important than the job itself.”

At the end of his speech, Ed Zander presided over the raffle drawing and gave away three hot Motorola gadgets – the new slick Motorola RAZR V3 cell phone, the Motorola ROKR iTunes cell phone, and a Motorola-Oakley RAZRWIRE Bluetooth headset – to three lucky Harvard Business School students.

In discussing the visit by Motorola’s CEO, Abhi Shah, president of the Globalization Club, said, “What struck a chord with me was his downright humility, his simple but powerful formula for successfully running a company – Vision, Focus, and Execution – and his personal advice to always focus on the output.”

November 7, 2005
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