Chicago should embrace new Motorola CEO

December 22, 2003


Motorola's board of directors made Edward J. Zander, 56, Chicago's most influential local technology executive when they named the former Sun Microsystems Inc. president their new chairman and CEO.

Returning Motorola to leadership status could have a big impact on this town if the Brooklyn native finds success in Chicago away from his current West Coast home. Our town should roll out the red carpet for him like it did for Boeing. Get him involved.

My bet: Motorola President and CEO Mike Zafirovski, a contender for the top job, will be wooed away by another company within six months. Too bad; Zafirovski has a good reputation as a leader. Zander told the Sun Times he and Zafirovski should bond in a hot tub. I'd pour cold water on that idea working.

Praise the Motorola directors for what they didn't do. Rumors swirled weeks ago that former Ameritech and Tellabs CEO Richard Notebaert was a candidate. Notebaert has his hands full turning around Colorado-based Qwest Communications International Inc. Maybe he can sell Qwest to SBC as he did Ameritech. I'd like to keep Motorola's headquarters local.

Happy Apple

One technology giant is prospering in Chicago. That's Apple Computer Corp., which opened a flagship retail store on North Michigan Avenue last June.

"It's the highest-trafficked Apple retail store worldwide," says Ron Johnson, 45, senior vice president and the man Apple founder Steve Jobs recruited to launch Apple's highly touted retail effort. "The Chicago store averages 30,000 visitors per week," Johnson said.

What's the hot seller this holiday season? Digital music. "We're selling one iPod (Apple's digital music player) every 10 minutes," Johnson said.

A Midwesterner by birth, Johnson fondly recalls shopping at Marshall Field's in his youth. "There are five key places in the world we need to be. One of those is Michigan Avenue," he said.

If you haven't shopped the store, drop in. It's a marvelous customer experience. The service is exceptional. The staff is courteous and well-trained. There's even a waiting list to work for Apple. "We have 17,000 applicants for 1,000 retail positions," Johnson said. "It's harder to get a job at an Apple store than it is to get admitted to Stanford University," quips Johnson. There's a sign of the economic times.

Champaign connection

"People in Chicago have to tell their friends," says an enthusiastic Scott Goldberg, 21, a Northbrook native and undergraduate advertising major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Goldberg and his classmates came to Chicago to recommend technology marketing approaches to the city.

What did the students find? Chicagoans are somewhat cynical. We go about our business. We don't spread the word about our town. We might even be a conservative and insular lot. We're like mini-New Yorkers. "Guys in ties," says Goldberg. But his classmates want to change all that.

As the economy rebounds, they want to help Chicago become a hub of technology entrepreneurship. The recommended approach: Appeal to youth and creativity. Present the city's livability as an attraction. Showcase our arts, music, dining and theater scene and our vibrant city life to bring in the young brains.

Is it the dot-com thing all over again? Not according to recent research conducted by Robert Weissbourd, president of Chicago-based RW Ventures and Chris Barry of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Weissbourd's study concludes that the cities that will prosper tomorrow are the ones that attract more educated workers.

Will the recommended marketing campaign see the light of day? Probably not right away. No money. But Chicago's defacto chief marketing officer, Paul O'Connor, president of World Business Chicago, called the Illini student work "brilliant."

The bright side: Despite today's public sector budget crisis, bridges are growing between the University of Illinois and our town. "The university's relationship with Chicago is becoming stronger and deeper," says Charles "Chip" Zukoski, vice chancellor for research. He sponsored the initiative.

That's not all. The Association of University Technology Managers reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the University of Illinois yielded 12 start-ups last year. Not as many as MIT or the University of California, each with 23, but just one away from Stanford with 13. Keep it up, Chip.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech writer and consultant, and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners