"Motorola’s longtime ticker symbol, MOT, was retired on Tuesday as Schaumburg-based Motorola Inc. began trading under its new name, Motorola Solutions, with the ticker MSI. Motorola Mobility, which was spun off as a new company, trades under the ticker MMI." While Wall Street is giddy over the possibilities, if you listen closely you can hear the final death knell tolling for what was American manufacturing's greatest hope.
Many modern-day Six Sigma enthusiasts cannot begin to imagine the environment at Mot in the late 1980's and early '90's when the concept was born and the first Baldrige Award was conferred on them. If they could, they would realize how far from grace Mot and the concept of Six Sigma have fallen.
In 1985 and '86 the ideas leading to Six Sigma were incubating at Mot, and in 1987 the principles were rolled out company wide in a dramatic company-wide cultural transformation. The guiding mantra was that "The best quality producer is the shortest cycle time producer, and the shortest cycle time producer is always the best cost producer." Six Sigma was the powerhouse behind becoming the shortest cycle time producer, culminating in Operation Bandit in 1989. With a combination of lean principles, Six Sigma quality in design and production, and automation, the plant in Boynton Beach, Florida produced pagers in two hours from receipt of customer orders – a dramatic reduction from the three or four week cycle times with which Mot built pagers before Bandit. Those pagers were made with the highest quality and at the lowest cost in the world, and the Bandit plant was a manufacturing Mecca where American producers could catch a glimpse of the future of manufacturing.
Note that the Bandit plant was built built two years before the term "Lean Manufacturing" was coined by Jim Womack, et al, but the Fortune article describing the Motorola culture and the evolution of Bandit is a virtual primer on the subject. It was in the midst of this revolution in manufacturing thinking that I first visited Motorola, and learned Six Sigma, and it was very heady stuff indeed. The Fortune article is important because it provides the context. Six Sigma was merely a part – an integral part to be sure – of a broad and deep culture that was intensely focused on perfect quality, cycle time compression, bottom-up flow of ideas and decision making, and empowerment. At the top of all of this sat Bob Galvin, son of the Motorola founder, and his chosen successor, George Fisher, and they listened to guys like Bill Smith, the quality and engineering wizard who deserves most of the credit for Six Sigma.
In 1991 Mot demonstrated the first working cell phones; they were the paragon of world class manufacturing; and they were at the vanguard of just about every emerging technology. Then the wheels came off. The hollowing out of this once-great company, and now its break up, is the inevitable culmination of events set in motion almost eighteen years ago. Since then, the downhill slide has been steady and predictable. It is a case study in how culture that is not supported by a management infrastructure cannot survive a change in leadership.
From 1986 to 1990, Bob Galvin stayed at Mot as the chairman, while George Fisher served as CEO. This two man team drove the company to the top of the manufacturing world. After 1990, Galvin was gone and Fisher ran things on his own, but in 1993, he unexpectedly left to go to Kodak. The same year, Six Sigma's creator Bill Smith suffered a heart attack and died in the Motorola cafeteria. And 43 year old Chris Galvin found himself at the helm- a smart enough and nice enough guy, by all accounts, but lacking the depth and breadth of institutional knowledge, and the force of personality of his father.
Motorola had all of the traditional accounting data that called inventory an asset and classified cycle time compression as a negative, and they had all of the typical labor-centric performance metrics. Bob Galvin simply ignored them, symbolically relegating financial discussion to the end of the staff meetings, rather than the beginning where they had always been. He put quality discussions first. And Mot had a traditional, functional, command and control organizational structure. Again, Galvin ignored it, pushing decision making down and empowering lower level people by the force of his position and personality. Big mistake – he should have changed the systems, metrics and structure. Chris Galvin took over without the benefit of his father's deep institutional knowledge and the force of convictions that such knowledge enables. So from 1993 on, Motorola inevitably and inexorably reverted back to its former self as decision making was driven more and more by the traditional financial inputs and the advice of Galvin's siloed senior staff.
The next eighteen years of Motorola history are a littany of spin off's, and downsizing (some 60,000 people were axed), and outsourcing. Mot essentially got out of manufacturing, and even spun off its automotive group – its roots. It's break-up this week is something that has been foretold in the stars for a long time.
There are two vital, fundamental lessons to take from the tragic story of the rise and fall of Motorola. One is that a leader who drives a cultural transformation must put in place an infrastructure and a senior staff that fully support the cultural principles, or the culture cannot sustain through a succession in leadership.
And second, Six Sigma is an enormously powerful tool when used within the context of the lean culture in which it was born and deployed with amazing success. It is an extension of the culture. By itself, however, it is meaningless. At Mot's quality and cycle time driven culture twenty some years ago it led to the Bandit miracle. Within a rotten, money-driven culture like GE's it led to trashing 100,000 plus jobs and converting the company from a great manufacturer to Shylock writ large, and disaster for all stakeholders.