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October 13, 2011

Former Motorola CEO Robert Galvin Passes Away at Age of 89

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

It seems to be a month for marking and honoring the passage of technology industry innovators. While the world still is coming to terms with the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, notice deserves to be paid to the death on October 11 of former Motorola (News - Alert) CEO and industry innovator, Robert Galvin.

As many of his obituaries have mentioned, Robert Galvin took over Motorola from his father and Motorola founder Paul Galvin in 1959. In the three decades of his stewardship he grew the company from annual revenues of about $290 million (primarily from North America) to annual sales of $10.8 billion. He had relinquished the post of CEO in 1986.

Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown said Robert Galvin was the CEO that made the biggest impact on Motorola's history. "He was a global thinker. He saw around corners. He put an extraordinary emphasis on innovation," Brown told Reuters (News - Alert).

His list of accomplishments bears out his remarkable talents in multiple aspects of technology and process innovation. Highlights include:

--1960: Motorola introduced the world's first "large-screen" (19-inch), transistorized, cordless portable television.

--1963: Introduction of the world's first truly rectangular color TV. The tube, developed in a joint venture with National Video Corporation became the industry standard.

--1969: Neil Armstrong spoke the famous words "one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" from the Moon on a purpose built Motorola transceiver

--1973: Motorola Demonstrates Portable Telephone to be Available for Public Use by 1976.

--1983: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the DynaTAC 8000X telephone, the world's first commercial cellular device, and by 1998, cellphones accounted for two thirds of Motorola's gross revenue.

--1986: Motorola invented the Six Sigma quality improvement process

--1990: General Instrument Corporation, which was later acquired by Motorola, proposed the first all-digital HDTV standard. In the same year, the company introduced the Bravo numeric pager which became the world's best-selling pager.

--1991: Developed under Galvin’s watchful eyes, Motorola demonstrated the world's first working-prototype digital cellular system and phones using GSM standard.

In addition, the company branched out into the semiconductor and integrated circuits businesses where it established a formidable presence over the years including its 68000 family of microprocessors used widely by PC makers and was the engine of the Apple (News - Alert) Macintosh. 

Robert's son Chris Galvin became Motorola CEO in 1997, but Robert stayed on the Motorola board until 2001. And, while Motorola’s fortunes have waned since Mr. Galvin’s retirement with the company being split in half in early 2011 with the mobility half in the process of being sold to Google Inc., it does not diminish his legacy. He clearly is a father of cellular telephony both analog and digital. And, all of those Six Sigma Black Belts owe a debt of gratitude to the man who had the vision to understand how to improve the quality of process outputs in manufacturing and business operations. 

Even in his elder statesmanship, his insatiable curiosity saw him vitally engaged via two think tanks he created and an investment firm he established with his two sons to push the envelope in the areas of energy and transportation.

Galvin is survived by his wife, Mary Barnes Galvin, four children — Gail Galvin Ellis, Dawn Galvin Meiners, and Christopher and Michael Galvin — 13 grandchildren and ten great grandchildren. A wake is scheduled for October 17 in Skokie, Ill., followed by a funeral mass the next day in Winnetka, Ill.

Interestingly, it was a Motorola campaign in 2004 for the interoperability of various of its wireless products (Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth and Push-to-Talk over TETRA and Cellular) that possibly sums up the gift of Robert Galvin, “Intelligence Everywhere.”  

Robert Galvin, as with Steve Jobs (News - Alert), thank you. 


Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom (News - Alert), and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny
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