Now Playing

Photography by Eric Hausman

Mr. Solutions

by Matt Lee | Men's Book Chicago magazine | November 8, 2011

If Motorola has proven anything over the years, it’s that its strengths lie in innovation and adapting: founded as a maker of battery eliminators in 1928, Motorola has gone on to develop everything from radios and TVs galore to the communications equipment that relayed the first words from the moon to Earth. Today, Motorola Solutions’ 23,000 employees focus on products that make government agencies such as fire and police departments, as well as enterprises such as retail, transportation and health care, more efficient and effective. We visited Chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions Greg Brown at the company’s headquarters in Schaumburg to discuss Motorola Solutions’ mission, its plans for the future and what inspired him to chair this year’s American Cancer Society Discovery Ball on April 28, 2012.

Motorola is one of Chicago’s most iconic companies, but its mission has changed over the years. Simply put, what is Motorola Solutions’ mission in 2011? We help people be the best in the moments that matter. Those are mission-critical moments, whether it’s public safety, man-down, natural disasters, location of a critical package, identification of inventory—everything we do is centered around the delivery of mission-critical value proposition for both public safety and enterprise. That’s what you see the product line revolve around.

Where do you see Motorola Solutions 10 years from now? Our mission will stay constant but the culture and technology will evolve. You’ll see us pursue things around next-generation retail, public-safety broadband, advanced devices on cellular networks and private networks for public safety. You’ll see us have more intelligent infrastructure around things like sensors and RFID (radio-frequency identification). You’ll see us have more services and solutions orientation.
The future is very bright. We’re performing very well. Last week was our 83rd birthday; the thing that is alive and well and constant is innovation. That’s the nucleus of this company, which invented cellular, paging, push-to-talk. With 8,000 engineers and a billion dollars in R&D, I have high confidence that we will continue to innovate and expand.

Earlier this year Motorola Solutions and Motorola’s cell phone division, Motorola Mobility, split off and subsequently Motorola Mobility is being bought by Google. How does Motorola Solutions benefit from the split? It’s been one of our best success stories. Along with the board I started thinking about separating the company in 2007. At the end of the day the assets of Motorola didn’t make sense together. The identity of the firm externally was about cell phones, but that’s not where the value and economics were driven. So there was this misunderstanding, this dichotomy around a fascination with shiny objects. But that’s not what Motorola was really good at. We were strongest in systems, industrial, mission-critical.

We decided in 2007 to begin seriously thinking about it and then, 90 days after I became CEO in January 2008, we cemented that view, that we would separate the company and spin off the smartphone business—separate the consumer-oriented company and keep the B2B segment, where we were strongest and the growth was more sustainable.

Has the split unfolded as you’ve envisioned? Better. Operationally, financially, strategically, our playbook and execution has exceeded my expectations. We’re very pleased with where we are.

Motorola Solutions recently announced that it will hire 400 people in Chicago. The business is growing; we’re going to need more people. We’ll look to add services, systems integration, other kinds of technical resources, either downtown or in the greater Chicago area, and we are on track to fulfill that commitment by the end of 2012.

What do you feel are the primary factors holding the American economy back from a more substantial recovery? What should our political leaders be doing? I’m disappointed in our bipartisan gridlock. We need to take action and make some tough decisions instead of complaining, accusing and using inflammatory rhetoric. We need to approve free trade agreements, to be progressive on immigration, to think more competitively regarding our R&D tax credit. But most importantly we need comprehensive corporate tax reform. I think there’s more and more understanding about that.

What moments in your career are you most proud of? Seeing key people promoted and subsequently succeed are some of the most rewarding times I’ve had. Successfully spinning off a very complex transaction and completing the separation of Motorola. For a company our size—$20 billion-plus in revenues, 300-plus legal entities, 30,000 patents, 55,000 people—it was very gratifying to see it done and done well.

We’ve reenergized a new identity for Motorola Solutions, we’ve gotten off to a very strong 2011, we’ve initiated a dividend, announced a stock repurchase, exceeded expectations for two quarters in a row and continue to grow stronger. Those are some of the highlights so far.

You’re a huge basketball fan. What do you like about the game? It’s fast, real-time. And it’s about collaboration and teamwork. Baseball, it’s pitch-by-pitch, it’s situational. Football, you have an assignment: Block the tackle, run the route. Basketball’s very fluid, very fast. You have to read the cut, read the pick, take the shot, pass, dish—there’s no plan. It’s improvisation. So the speed and the adaptability and the athleticism is second to none. I love basketball.

Are there any CEOs you admire? Steve Jobs. Not just for the success of Apple, but his imagination. Think about what he’s done. He reinvented the company that he founded and changed the entire landscape of four different industries: computing, mobile smartphones, movies through Pixar, and content distribution with iTunes. He brought computing from the old age to a contemporary user interface and then mobilized it, and reinvented the cell phone business. His capacity is extraordinary. [Editor’s note: Our interview with Greg Brown took place prior to Jobs’ passing.]

Fred Smith from Federal Express runs a great company, an iconic brand. He pays attention to details and he runs that firm with a level of operational excellence that many envy. And Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. I’ve always admired him because he’s courageous. He runs one of the few financial service institutions that came out of the mess stronger than when they went in. Those are three leaders for different reasons who I think are role models for many CEOs.

You’re chairing the American Cancer Society Discovery Ball at the Radisson Blu Aqua on April 28, 2012. You’re no doubt asked to host a lot of events—why did you choose this one? Cancer is very personal to me. My sister had it, my father passed away of cancer, my mother-in-law passed away of cancer. It’s very meaningful that we have the opportunity to lead the Discovery Ball in Chicago. My wife and I thought it was the right thing to do. It’s a ton of work, but I can’t think of a better cause.