Remembering Geoffrey Frost

FrostGeoffrey Frost died in Chicago on November 17 of natural causes.  He was Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and brand stewart at Motorola.  We remember him as a man responsible for one of the great acts of corporate creativity and brand rescue of our time. 

Frost and the phone that saved Motorola

Motorola had pioneered the mobile-phone industry, but in the early 1990s it was foundering.  It had lost nearly $6.5 billion in 2001-2002, and was now well behind Nokia, the category leader in the headset market.  Korean competitors were beginning to take away market share, and Samsung and LG now had, as Anthony puts it, a "lock on cool."  Motorola found itself in a competitive "death valley." It was too small to outmuscle Nokia, too large to out-innovate the Koreans.

Frost thought he saw a way out of this position and he made himself the champion of a phone called Razr that had emerged from the Moto City design center in Chicago. This slender, expensive phone was introduced in August of 2004 and it managed to exceed the company’s total lifetime projections for the product in its first three months. 

One of Frost’s colleagues at Motorola, Roger Jellicoe, remembers Frost’s role.

[Frost] was frustrated with how stodgy our products had become. He wanted a couple of initiatives up and running that would break that image. ‘I don’t care what you have to do, let’s get this done.’

Frost left behind this glimpse of his strategy when he drew four lessons from the Razr success:

1. "It was a bet being made, not a base being covered. We didn’t even include it in the sector’s business plan."

2. "No compromise was the standard operating procedure. We didn’t juggle tradeoffs, we just insisted on excellence."

3. "We didn’t try to predict the market for the product based on history, we bet that if it was good enough, it would make its own market."

4. "We put the best, brightest, craziest, and most passionate people we had on it."

"Make it’s own market," now that the way marketer’s used to do it.   But Razr was not just a matter of having the courage of one’s convictions.  Frost had also found a way to spare the Razr Motorola’s version of "death by committee."  (This is nicely documented by Anthony, below.)

It is clear that Ed Zander, the CEO who joined Motorola in 2004, also contributed both to Frost’s opportunities and his new passion.  Zander put dollars behind the Razr, but he made a more fundamental contribution to the world in which  Frost was working.  Here is Frost talking about the effect Zander had on the Motorola corporate culture.

The single biggest change is the meetings have become much more lively, much quicker, much more participatory and conversational, if not occasionally a free-for-all.  We’re getting back to the original culture that was Motorola: smart people figuring out things fast.

The admiration was mutual.  Zander remembers Frost this way:

Frost was instrumental in making Motorola’s brand cool again.  From the start, he shared his infectious enthusiasm for breaking the established norms and challenged us to see the world in a new way.  His fresh insights, passion, energy and commitment to excellence in everything helped renew and re-invent Motorola. 

Frost was a phenomenon.  He won several awards, including an "Effie" Award in 2000 for advertising effectiveness. He was also named one of the marketers of the year for 2005 by Brand Week and Ad Age.

But I am not sure this is quite good enough for a marketer of this stature.  And for those of us who are struggling to figure out the secrets of the new marketing, it leaves key questions unanswered, not least, "who was Geoffrey Frost?"

Looking for Geoffrey Frost

Here’s what I have been able to piece together about Frost from various sources on the internet.  I would be most grateful if blog readers who knew Frost would please give me any additional details they might have.   I have emailed Jennifer Weyrauch at Motorola and I will post anything she is able to send me. 

What little we know.

Frost was raised in New York.  I have been unable to determine where he was to school but we know he spoke Russian and Japanese.  The first official notice of his career puts him at Grey Worldwide and then Scali, McCabe, Sloves, as a creative.  The second puts him at Foote, Cone & Belding as executive vice president.  He appears to have lived in London, Paris and Hong Kong.  He went to Nike in 1996 as global director of advertising and brand communications and there he oversaw brand strategy, advertising, direct marketing and He was responsible for campaigns featuring Michael Jordan ("Frozen Moment") and Tiger Woods ("Hello World" and "I am Tiger Woods").  In 1998, Frost received the Cannes Grand Prix for best campaign in the world at the International Advertising Festival.

Frost joined Motorola in 1999 as corporate vice president of global marketing and communications for the Personal Devices business.  He oversaw brand management, advertising, entertainment marketing, public relations, sponsorships, promotional activities, agency management, customer marketing and global consumer communications strategies.  In 2003, he was promoted to senior vice president of marketing and chief brand officer.  Frost because Executive Vice President in 2004 and was then the head of Motorola’s marketing, communications, advertising, events and design functions. 

We know Frost was married but nothing else of his private life.  We know next to nothing about his intellectual or managerial style.  We don’t know where his passion for design came from.  We don’t know he found his way to the agency world. 

From an anthropological point of view, this is just odd.  We are now treated to endless recitations of the world according to Peter Jackson, the director of King Kong.  Geoffrey Frost made his own quite spectacular contribution to contemporary (and corporate) culture.  Shouldn’t we know a little more about him?


Anonymous.  Geoffrey Frost, Motorola exec, dies at 56.  United Press International
Nov 18, 2005.   here.

Anthony, Scott D. Making the Most of a Slim Chance. Strategy and Innovation, Vol. 3, No. 4, July/August 2005.  Reproduced in the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge under the title, "Motorola’s Bet on the Razr’s Edge."  September 12, 2005. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2005.  The Malamud Effect: ideas and the corporation.  This blog sits at the… September 23, 2005. here.

Sampey, Kathy.  2005.  Motorola CMO Geoffrey Frost Dies.  BrandWeek.  November 17, 2005.  here.

Silverstone, Sean.  2005.  Ed Zander on Motorola’s Tech Turnaround.  HBS Working Knowledge.
November 28, 2005.  here.



I haven’t heard anything from Motorola but there is an illuminating interview with Frost in The Hub, posted at Diablogue here.


Still no word from Motorola, but Tim Manners of The Hub was kind enough to remember Mr. Frost this way:

I interviewed Geoffrey by phone in August but never met him.  He was an outstanding interview — far more thoughtful, candid and forward-looking than many other CMOs. He seemed unusually clear on where he wanted to go with Motorola and extremely excited about it. We need more people like him in marketing.   

See the full interview here.


Geoffrey Frost’s wife recently passed away and her obituary, written by Padmasree Warrior ,may be found here

27 thoughts on “Remembering Geoffrey Frost

  1. Michael Wagner

    Thank you for this post. First for introducing me Geofrey Frost’s story. He deserves to have his story told from what you have gathered here. Second, because I continue to exhort, challenge, cajole and coax clients to renew their creative passions. Frost seems to be one more argument for exactly that sort of business leadership.

    “Make its own market.” Amen.

  2. Peter

    Motorola’s success in the consumer cell-phone market is even more remarkable when one considers the company’s origins were in the police-radio and walkie-talkie markets, what telecoms marketers used to refer to as “blue-collar cellular”.

  3. Ben Wood

    I just found your post and I’m thrilled to find that someone has taken the time to record the life of such an exceptional individual.

    I first met Geoffrey in July 2002 at a Motorola analyst event and I was lucky enough to be randomly seated with him at lunch. I was immediately captivated by his enthusiasm and passion for his work and life as a whole. No one knew who he was at the time and him Motorola ID badge even said “Geoff” – which anyone who knew Geoffrey will know was incorrect.

    At this first meeting he was clearly frustrated by the tired messaging and branding at Motorola (still being headed by the Galvin family at that time) and had a vision of coherent, bold and edgy brand which took him several years to deliver. I guess he had figured out (ahead of the crowd) that mobile phones were now as much about fashion as function / technology. The most recent analyst event (held July 2005) was a crowning glory to all the hard work and a fitting tribute to the vision Geoffrey had had all those years before – slick branding and a CEO who communicated the message that Geoffrey had worked so hard to develop (despite some naysayers in the organization around him).

    Over the next few years I went on to meet Geoffrey on a number of occasions and developed a strong rapport with him.

    Whenever you met him he was excited about the prospects for Motorola and whatever project he was working on at the time. Most recently I remember bumping into him on The Croisette in Cannes (South of France) in Feb 2005. Cannes hosts one of the biggest cellular industry jamborees every year and Geoffrey loved it. He came bounding along the sidewalk (dressed in his trade mark Nike footwear), saw me, greeted me with enthusiasm and his infectious smile, passed on a few words of wisdom (about products he should not have told me about) and went happily on his way. This is an enduring memory for me and so typical of the way Geoffrey was – he always had time for everyone.

    When I heard about Geoffrey’s death I was devastated. This was a man who had so much more to give – not only to Motorola but to the society as a whole. That said – there is no doubt this is a man who lived life to the max and someone who will be remembered with great affection by anyone that had the privilege to meet him and spend time with him.

    Sadly I was not able to pay tribute to him at the memorial service but should any of his family be reading this I’d like to pass on my very heartfelt condolences.

    Ben Wood – January 2006

  4. Grant

    Ben, thank you, thank you, thank you, just what I was hoping for, and a magnificent gesture. Here’s the internet at work, when two perfect strangers can join to sing the praises of a third. Great contribution. Thank you. Grant

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  6. Grant

    Roger Jellicoe at Motorola sent me this account of Geoffrey Frost. It gives us a glimpse of Frost’s diplomatic skills and his understanding of the real fount of value in a company like Motorola. Many thanks to Roger! Grant

    Geoffrey always brought high energy into a room with him. He was visionary, passionate and tenacious yet always charming. He would not accept mediocrity, but was very supportive of good ideas from whatever source. For such a powerful personality and intellect, he could be surprisingly self effacing. When pressed on how he changed Motorola’s engineering led culture, he reminded the questioner, that it was audacious engineering that had made Motorola great in the first place. He said “If you say you are going to the moon, they call you a poet and a dreamer. If you do it, they call you an engineer.” The respect he had for creative people of other disciplines was mutual. We loved that he made our products cool, and how that reflected on us. We will miss him.

  7. Isaac Ro

    I met Frost at a conference in Shanghai in January 2003. We were seated for a group lunch during which he went through the company’s HelloMoto branding strategy. At the time, the company was out of favor in the minds of many and it seemed that Nokia could do no wrong.

    For me, his presentation was the turning point of the weeklong conference after which i began to think that Motorola was poised for a big comeback.

    He was a compelling speaker with a clear vision and his passing is a great loss to the company. My belated condolences to his family.

    -Isaac Ro

  8. John Peebles

    In the early 1990’s I was sales rep at Lexis/Nexis. Foote Cone & Belding called because Geoffrey Frost wanted to do searches on his Mac (this was when 9600 baud was fast and Gopher was how you searched the Internet).

    Geoffrey was so exciting to work with. He came up with new ideas every few seconds. I had never met someone who would get into the nitty-gritty details of boolean search logic in one breath and then come up with a new way to use the information with the next.

    He had me back several times to work with his team in the months that followed. I was the sales rep, but he was the one who always made me feel important. His example is something I try to emulate every day.

  9. Grant

    Isaac, Wow, perfect, in the room at the moment the brand turns around, thank you for that memory. Best, Grant

    John, “I had never met someone who would get into the nitty-gritty details of boolean search logic in one breath and then come up with a new way to use the information with the next.” that is a perfect insight into the guy. Thank you! Grant

  10. Kristin

    Just a note, several months after Geoffrey’s death. Yes, Geoff did have a family…and we were raised in Connecticut (though we did spend an inordinate amount of time in Manhattan–). Geoffrey defined himself– he was a great guy, and a great brother: a comet. I bought a Christmas ornament this year to remember him: the mysterious Uncle/Magician from The Nutcracker. Perfect. Something of a wizard, my big brother, Geoff– and VERY cool.

  11. raoul

    i worked pretty closely with Geoffrey at nike and was amazed, and i think someone here said it, about how he was a mystery in terms of what he knew, how he knew it and whether he truly believed it. his ability to galvanize a room based on his opinion was incredible, he was indeed a magician and was always aiming not just ahead of the curve but on the dark side of the moon. he was an incredible friend and a sly enemy. he also had a penchent for carrying small teddy bears in his pocket, which i never understood.

  12. Richard DiLallo

    It is close to a year since Geoffrey Frost died. I searched for him on Google, and I found this site.

    I can give you some early information about him. He had dropped out of Yale and gone with the “Up with People” group to Africa. There he got some sort of GI disease. He returned to the USA and got a job at J.Walter Thompson. He was a copywriter in the same group that I worked in — we wrote commercials for Ford Motor Co. Geoff (I never knew him as Geoffrey) and were close friends. He was about 20, and I was about 21. He was charming and witty and very sure of himself. He was extremely popular with women. And he always believed he introduced me to the woman I married. That’s a complicated story, and boring to anyone except Geoff, my wife and me. In any event, he, of course, was at our wedding. When we returned from our honeymoon, he had left JWT and gone to Grey. I saw him only once, some 30 years later, when he was at Motorola and I was at DDB. I was shocked to read of his death, for clearly he was meant to live forever.

  13. Grant

    Kristin, Raoul, and Richard, I have communicated my thanks by email, but I wanted to give a public thanks for your comments. The picture is becoming ever more clear. Thanks, Grant

  14. Amanda Fisher

    I just stumbled across this site after doing a search on Motorola to find out how they were doing. I left the company 5 years ago just as Geoffrey was getting going.

    I remember first meeting him, along with a couple of hundred other people. We were in a huge auditorium at what we all thought was to be another run-of-the-mill conference, introducing yet another brand strategy which was going to put us back on track. How wrong we were. Geoffrey Frost stood up, and as if speaking to each and every one of us personally, gave us a clear vision of where he was going to take us. By the time we walked out, the place was buzzing and I don’t think for a minute anyone doubted that we were going to get there and get there quickly. For me, that day he made a large, disparate, group of aimless marketeers into a team on a mission.

    Geoffrey had an immense presence which commanded your attention and made you feel as if you were a vital part of everything going on. He inspired you and gave you the confidence to push boundaries and take risks. He appreciated every contribution and made sure he let you know he did. I know Geoffrey was greatly respected by all who worked with him. Those are huge Nike’s someone’s had to fill.

  15. PaulA

    You guys really have geoffrey all wrong. He was an uneducated, insecurity, no talent hack.

    Those of us who really knew him at Mother Mo know this.

    He was weak.

  16. Ned Wiley

    I was an extremely close colleague of Geoffrey Frost during his time at Foote, Cone & Belding in London; Publicis in Paris, and then with FCB again in New York. I knew him from 1985 until his death in 2005.

    At the time we first met, I was making a transition from Brand Management at Procter & Gamble into the Advertising Agency world. He helped me enormously with that. He also taught me how to survive a lot of heavy duty international travel, although that was probably a good part of what got him in the end.

    He was an autodidact, but he was second in his class at Choate, with an intellect as startling as it was eclectic. His charm was polarizing: especially among women. They either raved about him or found him somewhat cool and off-putting.

    It would have been difficult not to have a strong reaction to his personality, one way or another. He must have had some pretty tough enemies, as he had some pretty loyal friends.

    I just learned that his wife, Lynne, passed away. Now, my short list of close friends has gotten a lot shorter.

    I will miss them both.

  17. George Miller

    I started at JWT with Frost. We were great friends. I loved the guy. We also worked together at Scali McCVabe Sloves, and finally at FCB. It was his wife and I (at a three hour sushi lunch) who finally convinced him to take the Motorola job. He did the job there that I always thought he could do. He was spectacular. We stayed best friends until his death, which was a terrible shock.
    I attended the funeral, which was remarkable, especially Lynne, his wife. She and Zander were magnificent. I was too upset to make it through lunch.
    A year (?) later, I got a call from Lynne requesting that I spread his ashes in the sea. Geoffrey was put to sea off of my boat on an outgoing tide in early June of 2007. I still miss him terribly.
    I never heard from Lynne. I did hear she died. She was a very bright and lovely person and Geoffrey adored her. If anyone knows what happened, please contact me at and let me know the details. Like Geoffrey, she was wonderful. Thanks.

  18. sherry

    We met a couple of years ago and I had no idea at the time that you knew my good friend Geoffrey Frost. Geoffrey was indeed a great mind — inspiring leader — and a authentic (albeit mysterious) friend. I miss him terribly.

    Geoffrey and I worked together at Foote, Cone and Belding — then remained friends until his death. Geoffrey was a wonderful mentor to me and helped me navigate some tough career (life) choices along the way. His sound advice — and provocative questions offered both challenge and comfort. Lynnie and I became friends over the years. Geoffrey’s genorosity and kindness have touched many. I’m thankful to be one of them.

    Both Geoffrey and Lynnie are greatly missed.

    p.s. Lynnie designed and made extraordinary teddy bears. Beautiful gifts that she gave to her friends. She loved them and had quite a collection of her own. As a result, Geoffrey was often found with a small teddy bear in his pocket — or on his desk.

  19. Tony C

    I just came across this site, and appreciated the comments of many about Geoffrey. I knew Geoffrey quite well, having worked with him at Motorola, and have some additional comments to add to the those of others:

    – Geoffrey invented the HelloMoto slogan and campaign, which conveyed cool and a definite departure from the staid Motorola of the past.
    – He and Lynnie were passionate about sailing, having spent time in the Caribbean chartering sailboats. In mid-2005, he and Lynnie joined the Chicago Yacht Club and he looked forward to getting a 52-foot sailboat to sail on Lake Michigan. They sailed with us a number of times on the Lake on our boat.
    – They lived in the north Chicago suburb of Lake Bluff, in a nice treed area near the Lake. He was especially proud of his collection of science fiction books, as Lynnie was of her teddy bear collection.

    Also, whoever made the the negative comment (Paul A) about Geoffrey doesn’t know him worth a damn. Of course there were those in Moto who did not appreciate his brilliance, but many more understood his steady and resolute hand on the marketing tiller. Motorola has struggled since his untimely departure.

  20. suzanne sidebottom

    I recently learned of Geoffrey’s passing. I was in Up with People from September 1966 to July 1967 with Geoffrey. We studied on the bus taking correspondence courses from the University of Nebraska with about twenty other high school students,a principal named Julian from South Africa, and a teacher nicknamed CJ. (High school students made up about 15% of the cast.)Somehow we managed to read and write on those modified Greyhound buses. We were focused and on an upbeat mission to make it through those times while we performed and were guests in homes. I remember Geoffrey as a friend always helping others. He was very bright, articulate, motivated, and had a great sense of humor. I believe that he studied at Choate prior to joining Up With People. He also wrote an article for Pace magazine in 1967. I am sorry for his passing, but it sounds as though he had a good life.

  21. jake bauer

    geoffrey lived next to me. this is weird that i am writing about him bc i was very young when he died and i sont remember much but i do know that he was his own person. and still to this day the my hero and i look up to him to this day. Geoffrey was like a second father to me. he always there to give you his amazing hug that made everything feel better again. reading all these story about him tells me that i am not the only person still missing him.. thank you

  22. Phil Bundy

    Hi Grant. Great post about a fascinating person. Today, I just read an interview of Geoffrey Frost in the book, Roadtrip Nation. Interested in his career and journey, I went to the web to learn more about him, and learned of his death through your blog. According to the interview in the book, he was accepted but never attended Yale due to skyrocketing opportunities even in his early career. I certainly am sorry to hear about his death as well as his wife’s subsequent suicide. The entire life story sounds like a movie script, and your writing is a thoughtful way to share information about an extraordinary person.

  23. Rick

    When it was announced today that Google had bid for Motorola, my thoughts turned to Geoffrey, who I knew briefly in, I’d say, late 1983 to spring 1984. He was going out with a longtime friend of my wife and living in her East 46th St apartment, working as a creative for Scali, McCabe Sloves. He was that rare larger-than-life person who fact-checks accurately. As such, I’m inclined to believe his having told me that in his young 20’s after, I thought, dropping out of Yale, he came up with the “Goodrich Blimp” campaign that raised the also-ran tire makers visibility tremendously and also earned him a very youthful vice presidency at Grey. When we met, he was enthused about the Sperry “We Listen” campaign, which while seeming obtuse was actually a shot at IBM, which then told people what to do and did not listen.

    We set off one day looking for a butcher in Patchogue to provide us with a leg of lamb for him to butterfly. I was several years younger, and this was heady stuff. While he was on vacation with his girlfriend, my wife and I stayed in their apartment. The stack and range of books piled at his bedside was amazing.

    But there was another side to this. Geoff (he was in transition on the name) had not paid his taxes in a bunch of years, and pressure was mounting. There were some other cracks in the wall. I labeled him a “six-figure fuckup” when sharing his legend after he abruptly departed the US for FCB in London. I never again saw him, but later got word that he’d resurfaced at Nike. That he bacme quite successful did not surprise me in the least. I’m imagining that I don’t have all the facts straight, but I well-recall a few very late night times at my house in Bellport that I came to regard as a meeting with a remarkable man.

    Apologies, by the way, for errors that may appear in this post. The last 20 or so characters in each line are not visible to me and therefore cannot be corrected. I won’t know what this looks like until I hit “Submit”.

    1. Grant Post author

      Rick, this is a great recollection. Thanks for letting us see both sides of GF. Much appreciated. Best, Grant

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