Q&A: Chris Galvin on the Record

With his company on the ropes, Motorola Inc. CEO Christopher B. Galvin scarcely has time for the media. But in a rare series of interviews--including one conducted while racing through the restricted back hallways of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and another by phone from the backseat of a company car--Galvin talked with BusinessWeek correspondent Roger O. Crockett. Some excerpts:

On criticism that he takes too long to make decisions:

Most people don't know the complexity of the issues that get dealt with at the level of the CEO. When people look at another person's world from far away, it looks much simpler to them. When you're just involved with the law, you look at it from the legal standpoint. If you're just involved in finance, you look at it from a finance standpoint. When the buck stops here--when you're responsible for the ultimate shareholder value--you've got to take 10 or 30 or 100 variables into consideration. And those have to be thought through.

On criticism that he delegates too much:

Bob Galvin [his father and former Motorola chief executive] started the process of delegation, and it helped the company grow. When I came to the business, we were much bigger. I began with a philosophy of: Could we create an environment where five to seven or so managers felt empowered and energized around being their own CEO? In some cases it worked well; in other cases it didn't. When it didn't, we said: Let's put systems in that have more control and involvement by me, so that we're not trusting so much in people for follow-up mechanisms.

On whether he can change his hands-off style to a more aggressive management approach:

In managing activities throughout my career, I was very activist in all of those roles. In running paging and the Tegal [semiconductor-parts] business--whatever job it was. Motorola (MOT ) is a large multi-business operation. When a company gets large, you have to find a balance between delegating and being involved. When not enough got accomplished in our Communications Enterprise [the division that makes mobile phones and other wireless equipment], then we said: Fine, that approach didn't work. If you don't like the results, you have to put yourself in the mix--which is what I did.

On why Motorola took hits from the economic slowdown before other technology companies:

I was willing to stand up and say: There is an Asian currency crisis, and it will affect us, and it will affect others. At the time, I took a lot of criticism by people saying it's not happening to any of us--and whoops! It did. The same thing has been true with what has been going on with today's economy. Very early on, because our business model is one where we're selling to almost every major industry in the world, we do get a sense for what's happening before other people see it. My interest is not to be popular but to lead--and that means sometimes you have to stand alone. I was willing to stand up and say the world is in more trouble from a recession standpoint than a lot of people cared to or wanted to believe.

On his job performance and security:

The board of directors is focusing on the same thing I'm focusing on. They understand the [economic] tornado that came in and disrupted the landscape. They know we're proven reducers of cost and capacity. No one likes the fact that we have another 1984-85 boom-bust cycle that's even faster than before. But how productive is it to blame everything on one person? I get up every day saying: Don't focus on what happened yesterday. All you can do is take what you know today and put together a plan.

On cost-cutting and layoffs:

We were way ahead of our competitors. You're now seeing them do what we started many quarters ago: reducing head count, reducing facilities, and curtailing our capital expenditures by trimming nonstrategic investments. We got after it faster than others. And by the way, I think we are pretty darn good at it. It's strategic. You don't want to take out all your capacity, just the capacity you don't need for the future. We want to take out a layer at a time, because the worst thing is to not be able to serve customers.

On the challenges of leadership:

You have to live with the downside. You can be subject to all sorts of criticism. But I understand that all problems are solvable, and there's no sense wasting energy worrying about it or fretting about it.

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