Motorola's bruising brush with short-term thinking

Do something well, and it becomes your job. Do something spectacularly well, and it could become your nemesis

At the end of last week, Motorola rushed out a press release saying that the head of its mobile phone unit was leaving immediately. Ron Garriques, once seen as the company's next chief executive, was off to run Dell's consumer division. There had been rumours: the heat was on over Motorola's recent disappointing results, and someone was going to get the blame.

To put it another way, six months after failing to repeat the spectacular and unexpected success of the Razr mobile phone — one of those rare designs that changes the industry — Garriques walked the plank. Had the Razr not been so well received in the first place, he'd still be in his job. Yet there is an implicit contradiction here: the same people complaining about Garriques' lack of sparkle at Motorola are applauding Dell for a smart snatch. When a man goes from bad news to good news merely by moving between two similar jobs, the story's not about him at all.

Garriques' departure is undoubtedly bad news for Motorola, and illustrates how much harm success can bring. A lot of this is due to Wall Street's congenital attention deficit disorder. Motorola's comeback from its post-analogue hangover is the work of a company with defence in depth, and no company issues industry-defining products every two years.

Indeed, Motorola's bouquet of products at 3GSM didn't include another Razr, but there were top-flight consumer and enterprise products displaying significant innovations. Moreover, the company's move to Linux as part of the LiMo initiative will increase the speed at which it can bring new ideas in software to market — not the act of an organisation running out of things to do.

In IT, long-term strategic thinking easily depreciates, in the face of unexpected success as well as unwarranted failure. While nimbleness of thought and action is good for tactics, it's positively dangerous in strategy, where the appreciation of long-term action and long-term goals is worth any 10 short-term reactions. Even if it doesn't make for exciting analyst reports or good copy.

In two years' time, we confidently expect Motorola to have just as many good stories to tell as it does today — and to be listened to with more care. That is, of course, if it doesn't suffer from another success.

 

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