Motorola CEO Says "Counter-Intuitive" Approach has Succeeded

(9-10-97) -- Motorola Chief Executive Officer Christopher B. Galvin told business leaders at a luncheon meeting of Boston College's Chief Executives Club on Wednesday that success in the global marketplace requires a willingness to buck conventional wisdom, combined with an ability to roll with rapid and unforeseen changes in technology and geopolitics.

"Motorola likes surprises - [and] surprises are the most fun when you can create them," said Galvin, who said the giant electronics firm founded by his grandfather in 1928 to manufacture car radios has prospered by being prepared to capitalize on advances it could never have foreseen in communications technology, from personal computer modems to satellite-linked cellular telephones.

Galvin, who took over in January as CEO of Motorola, the 24th largest corporation in the United States with revenues in excess of $27.9 billion, said the firm has expanded its vast international operations by a "counter-intuitive" approach that has furthered company vision even when it has meant defying current business wisdom on dealings in Asia or Europe.

Motorola's products include radio and television equipment, pagers and cellular telephones, semiconductors, personal computers, modems and microwave equipment. The company employs 139,000 in facilities around the world.

In 1959, Motorola made less than 1 percent of its sales outside the United States. Today, international business accounts for 60 percent of its revenues.

"We're willing to be bold, to take the risk," said Galvin, who cited negotiations with Chinese leaders that led Motorola to make massive investments in China at a time when the unsettled political climate might have warned against it, and the firm's forceful push to open Japanese markets to US-made semiconductors and cellular phones.

He said Motorola has pushed aggressively since the 1970s for trade agreements that would open Japanese markets to American electronics, often doing so in the face of conventional wisdom that only a soft-spoken approach would work in the Japanese business culture.

"We said you have to speak up for what's right and open trade is the only way to get [business] done," said Galvin, who said the Japanese cellular market skyrocketed after being opened to outside trade in the mid-1990s.

Galvin said Motorola has succeeded by being flexible enough to capitalize on unforeseen surprises, such as the boom in consumer electronics, or the opening of markets in the wake of the Soviet collapse. He could not have predicted in 1991, he said, that six years later, his company would be heavily involved in the sale of computer modems.

"If I were giving this talk in 1993, not one of you in the room would ask about the Internet," he observed. "Look at what change has occured since then."

Some 200 business and community leaders heard Galvin speak at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston at a luncheon sponsored by the Chief Executives Club of Boston, in association with the Carroll School of Management.

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