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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Robert Galvin, Motorola (1922-2011)

It is one of the great blessings in my career to come into contact with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Bob Galvin, former chairman and CEO of Motorola, was perhaps the greatest person I have ever met.

While the world mourned Steve Jobs, Bob’s passing seemed to receive little notice. But without him, there wouldn’t be an iPhone or iPad and Apple may have disappeared long ago.

Interestingly, my father, who served with Bob on the Board of IIT, said he was the smartest man he ever met. We both marveled at his ability as a public speaker; he could present complex ideas in compelling, intricately organized speeches, without notes or PowerPoint, that left mezmerized and inspired.

I knew him of course during my days at Motorola. He was no longer CEO when I joined the company, but he was the star of many employee events and a living legend.
Motorola at the time was among the most admired companies in the world. A leader in both semiconductors and wireless communications, Bob had created a unique firm based on leading edge technology and managed by rigorous management techniques.

I remember vividly his story about Demming and his first visit to Japan—about how Demming told the Japanese the challenge wasn’t to eliminate waste (that’s easy); finding waste was the key to continuous improvement. I retell the story all the time and use the lesson regularly.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the company flounder without his leadership. Only a once-in-a-lifetime intellect like Galvin’s could have managed the synergies between semiconductors and end-products like cell phones and network infrastructure. He was smart enough to understand the demanding imperatives of different industries, manage the very different business sectors and titan personlities, and probably could have sustained the diversified strategy. But he was special.

He also knew how to leverage the power of people and culture at Motorola. Motorola was a family business and most employees learned the family lessons and respected the family way. At one time, the Motorola culture was a powerful and valuable asset.

When I see the global adulation that Steve Jobs is deservedly receiving, I can’t help but compare to him to Bob Galvin. Steve Jobs used his drive and consumer sensibilities to re-imagine and transform the personal computer and mobile markets. Bob Galvin was essential to creating these markets in the first place. Jobs was a savvy investor in companies like Pixar and a brutal manager known for emotional tirades and personal attacks on staff. Bob Galvin invested his time in helping make the Illinois Institute of Technology (I received my IIT MBA in 87) a great urban university and was a positive inspiration to all he met and led.

Great intellects like Bob Galvin and Steve Jobs change the world. Great people like Bob Galvin change the world for the better.

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