Motorola and the story of Geoffrey Frost continues

Geoffrey_frost Geoffrey Frost was a CMO at Motorola and the man perhaps most responsible for the Razr.  (The Razr is a hand set launched in 2004. Motorola projected sales of 2 million.  By the end of ’05, it had sold 20 million, by the end of ’06, 50 million.) 

I heard about Frost belatedly…about a month after he died.  I could tell from the business literature that 1) that he was, or ought be, a kind of hero in the world of marketing, 2) he grasped the new rules of marketing in inspirational ways, and 3) he deserved a memorial more generous that the world appeared to be mustering for him. 

So I created a virtual memorial on this blog, just a post, really, but I was gratified to see the post become one of the places that people began to leave thoughts and recollections. 

A second chapter of this tragic story occurred in 2007 when stories began to circulate that Frost’s wife, Lynne, had committed suicide.  I posted once more.  Further details on Lynne’s death were not forthcoming.  Frost’s public and private life remained relatively opaque.  We had a small glimpse of his accomplishments, and some sense of the cost of these accomplishments. 

A third chapter has been brewing for the last month or so.  We have now heard from inside Motorola.  Numair Faraz worked for Frost there.  In a letter dated February 5, 2008, he wrote to Motorola’s CEO Greg Brown. Thanks to Engaget, we now have the text of this letter.

This is a story of self destruction, too.  Fazar’s letter is heart felt, accusatory, incendiary, one of those "j’accuse" things.  In the short term or the long, it must mark the end of Fazar’s career at Motorola. 

But apparently different from the rest of the incompetent senior executives at Motorola — except instead of merely being inept, you’re actually actively killing the company. Your lack of understanding of the consumer side of Motorola doesn’t give you a valid reason for selling the handset business; moreover, publicly disclosing your explorations of such a move, in an attempt to keep Carl Icahn off your back, shows how much you value the safety of your incompetence.

You clearly have no interest in fighting the good fight and attempting to mold Motorola into the market leader it can and should be. Taking control of the handset division, as you have recently announced, will accomplish very little except but to give you an abiity to say, "We tried our best" — which you haven’t — when you finally do cart the business off to the highest bidder.

In order to turn the handset division around, you need to bring in another Frost; someone worldly and dynamic who is more interested in Motorola’s success than their own corporate career. You need to task the company’s designers with the same mantra that created the RAZR — make me a phone that looks, feels, and works like a symbol of wealth and privilege. Recognize the superiority of American software, and bring back those jobs so irresponsibly  outsourced to China and Russia. Fully embrace embedded Linux and Google’s Android initiative, and take the phone operating system out of the stone age.

Recognize that, while rich people don’t really know what they want, the lower end of the market does — and fund the development of an online "crowdsourced" device design platform to take advantage of this fact. Get rid of all of your silly, useless marketing, including those overpriced and completely ineffective celebrity endorsements, and do one unified global campaign with Daft Punk (the only group whose global appeal extends from American hip hoppers to trendy Shanghai club kids to middle-aged Londoners). Understand that the next big feature in handsets isn’t a camera or a music player — it is social connectedness; build expertise in this area, and sell it down the entire value chain. (In Block.)

Fazar’s accusations may be true, but they are so vituperative as to discourage credulity.  When corporations fall apart, things get very nasty, very fast. 

The story in this story is clear.  The world of the corporation is volatile. Motorola had the hottest handset two years ago, selling 50 million phones in 06.  Last quarter, some 2 years later, the cell phone division managed to loss $388 million (Miller 2008).  Hero to zero is around two years. 

This is a sad story, any kind of failure is, but I think we might make these our take-aways:

1)  that we are now moving at the speed of light.  The Razr came out of no where, enjoyed almost complete triumph, only within several months to fall into almost complete eclipse.  We see them on current TV series and think, "Razr.  How sad." 

2) that steady stream of innovation is not a zany enthusiasm of business press and the business guru.  It is the new order of business.  Motorola failed to find a replacement for the Razr.  (Fazar blames Zander, the previous CEO at Motorola.  He says that Zander blames Frost.)

3) that to survive in such a world, we need more Frosts.  We want people who can nurture and enable innovation.  Here’s to the memory of Geoffrey Frost.    

References

Block, Ryan.  2008.  Motorola insider tells all about the fall of technology icon.  Engadget. March 26th, 2008. here

McCracken, Grant 2005.  Remembering Geoffrey Frost.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  December 19, 2005. here

McCracken, Grant.  2007  Geoffrey Frost and the perils of the fast lane.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  May 16, 2007.  here

Miller, Paul.  2008.  Motorola officially considering dropping its phone unit.  Engadget.  January 31, 2008.  here

4 thoughts on “Motorola and the story of Geoffrey Frost continues”

  1. Incredible story.

    I remember in the mid nineties Motorola was market leader here in Australia. By the end of the decade they’d virtually disappeared and Ericsson was No. 1.

    Despite the undoubted popularity of Razr, Nokia has a seemingly unbreakable stranglehold on the current Oz market.

    Bring on the iPhone!

  2. ‘…Nokia has a seemingly unbreakable stranglehold…’

    Go back two years and replace Nokia with Motorola and you see what Grant is talking about. Consumer loyalty is to concepts like ‘qaulity’ or ‘innovation’, the name/logo is quickly becoming a secondary consideration.

    The window of opportunity for product success lasts until a competitor unveils something better. If you’re lucky, that might be a month or two.

  3. i am not ‘saddened’ by my razr phone at all. and i’m involved in the mobile industry. in fact what i’ve noticed is that many of the tech people in the industry have had the same phone for years…they try out the new nokias, samsungs, etc but unless there’s a really compelling reason to change handsets and go through all the set-up and entering of data etc they tend not to. they do check out the new handsets but they don’t jump to new hardware that quickly. at the same time i know people who ‘lead’ with their iPhone. iPhone therefore I am, that sort of thing. very much a look at me, i have a rolex mentality. the truly cool people seem to be somewhat embarrassed that they have an iPhone…the ones that love it for its incredible ease of use and functionality…for whom it does not matter that it’s the “it object” of the moment.

    also…check out RIM’s new blackberry 9000 — apple talking about suiing for copyright infringement of the iPhone.

  4. just wanted to say hi Grant! – came across your blog in a search for Yves Klein – good to see your web presence!
    I’m still in Edinburgh – got a book out finally called Carnivals and Dreams – check it out on Amazon UK. Hope all well with you & that our paths cross again in the real world soon. All best, Louise

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