Motorola’s co-CEO gamble

Aug 05, 2008

Last week on Postcards, I noted skepticism about the new co-CEO set-up at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia -- and talked about how rare power-sharing at the top of major companies tends to be. Motorola joined the club Monday when Qualcomm's Sanjay Jha agreed to join as co-chief and head of the company's troubled mobile-devices division. As my Fortune colleague Jon Fortt notes in a story, Jha's appointment will pay off (for Motorola and for Jha too, given his ultra-rich pay package) if the company successfully spins off the mobile division. But Jha appears to lack the right kind of experience to fix Motorola's severe problems.

As for the power-sharing arrangement with Motorola CEO Greg Brown, the odds of success are not in their favor. In the past decade, only 16 Fortune 500 companies have lived with co-chief executives, perhaps because the more renowned experiments such as Sandy Weill and John Reed at Citigroup and Chuck Schwab and David Pottruck at Charles Schwab (schw) fizzled.

Besides Motorola, only one Fortune 500 company currently has co-CEOs: Synnex , led by Robert Huang and Kevin Mural. The most successful pair ever may be Herb and Marion Sandler, the husband-and wife team who built Golden West Financial. They sold the giant S&L to Wachovia in 2006. They walked away winners, but Golden West's soured loans are now the monkey on Wachovia's back.

P.S. Former Motorola CEO Ed Zander talks about the company's problems in Lessons of the Fall and a video excerpt from that Q&A with him and ex-CEOs Jim Donald of Starbucks and David Neeleman of JetBlue.

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