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Motorola’s Zander leading the charge

Zander gesturing with hands Christopher Rhoads lobs some harmless questions at Motorola’s CEO Ed Zander ($) in today’s WSJ. Luckily Zander steps up and honestly assesses the company’s challenges, shortcomings and approach. Excerpts:

On learning the importance of cool…

When I came here on January 1, 2004, I didn’t think much about cool. I thought about making a quarter, meeting financials, meeting customer-delivery dates, developing the products on time, better quality. [He picks up a RAZR cellphone.]…I bumped into this thing a year ago April, and I thought it was cool. I would walk around with it on the streets of Chicago or in restaurants or with friends, and when they saw the RAZR, they just couldn’t believe this phone and said, ‘I gotta have it.’

On what needs to improve…

Motorola’s got a thick culture. I had to learn it, and it’s been hard bringing the things I think are valuable, such as a sense of urgency, fast decision making, shareholder value, competition. I don’t want to imply that none of that was there, but it was not to my liking, not after living in Silicon Valley for 17 years. I got the feeling that there were days the company was on autopilot to a degree.

On how to change the culture…

I think we ought to get back to putting the customer first. As simple as that sounds, I think it’s something that every American corporation, every corporation around the world, sometimes takes for granted.

He seems to incorporate the innovator’s dilemma into his management style…

Whack yourself before somebody whacks you. I used to have these meetings called the whack meetings at Sun where we’d think about what could happen to us and what we have to do to keep that from happening. That approach led to the creation of Java and a lot of the Internet.

On transformation:

The real challenge for corporations that are trying to transform is in the VP ranks. That’s where the blockage is. A lot of companies have clogged arteries. So we have undergone a transformation of our vice president ranks. I don’t know how many dozens of VP’s are no longer with us. Some have left on their own accord, some have not.