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.
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.