Pity Ed Zander, who's learning that timing is everything. The Motorola CEO today had to confess to Wall Street that his company's cell-phone sales were off again and the business was looking likely to run a loss for the year. He arrived at Motorola from Silicon Valley in January 2004, hailed as a tech visionary. As sales of the Razr took off, Fortune asked if he was "the greatest CEO in America — or simply the luckiest." Neither, it turns out. Here's where Zander went wrong.
Motorola's business, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: cell phones, networking equipment, and cable set-top boxes. In theory, that positions Motorola well for the future, since the cable companies which today buy Motorola set-tops need to upgrade their broadband networks and will one day want to sell their customers service packages that include cell-phone plans. But in practice, those are highly competitive markets with different customers, business models, and competitors. Any one of those businesses would be hard to run; together, they're a management nightmare. Zander's pedaling as fast as he can, but he still can't keep up.
But apparently, he'd rather keep his technological Roman Empire intact than let any of the provinces break off, even though private-equity buyers would be happy to take some off his hands. BusinessWeek suggests that Motorola's board may soon kick him upstairs. Zander will either have to accept a lesser role at Motorola — or a lesser company to run. Sic semper tyrannis.