Why Moto won’t get its man

June 4, 2008, 8:38 PM UTC
Todd Bradley heads HP’s $36 billion PC group, and Motorola has courted him to run its cell phone division. Image: HP

If anyone can rescue Motorola’s phone business, it’s Hewlett-Packard’s Todd Bradley. The question is why he’d want to.

Sure, Bradley likes fixer-uppers like this one. During stints at Gateway, Palm and Hewlett-Packard , he has burnished his high-tech management cred by building good products for less money than the competition. He’s not a visionary who dreams up flashy stuff – he’s a hard-hat guy who gets things done on time and under budget.

That makes Bradley, currently the executive vice president of HP’s PC group, an ideal choice to revive the flailing phone business that Motorola plans to spin off. (The Wall Street Journal reported that Bradley is Motorola’s top pick for mobile CEO.) Moto’s disjointed leadership team and mangled manufacturing process are the kinds of challenges Bradley has tackled before. At the helm of Palm, Bradley ran such a tight ship that he beat Handspring in the handheld computer business and forced Sony to drop out. At HP he has done much of the same, cutting costs and boosting profits so that the creative teams have room to try new things.

But I still can’t imagine Bradley really wants this Motorola job. After joining HP in early 2005 he spent months shaking up the leadership team, weeding out supply chain problems and simplifying laptop designs so HP can respond more quickly to changes in customer tastes. When I chatted with him a month ago about his progress at HP, Bradley didn’t sound like someone whose work was done. He sounded like a mechanic eager to see how much faster his tuned up car can go.

To make that happen, Bradley’s putting more energy into HP’s distribution partnerships, amping up design to take on Apple , and getting HP PCs in front of new customers all over the world. “Three years ago we clearly didn’t have a marketing capability. Clearly our design was not where it should be,” he told me, noting that the company has made great strides in those areas. “Now we’re looking at our market coverage. We’ve expanded from 20 cities in China to 700. You’ve got Vietnam. But you’ve also got 20 percent of the United States not covered, and by any stretch of the imagination that’s a lot of people.”

Sure, if Bradley were to take the Motorola job and ace it, he might go down among the finest tech turnaround artists ever. But he would also have to leave a resurgent HP and deal with Moto’s conflicted board of directors, its pitchfork-wielding shareholders, and the headaches involved in the handset division spin-off.

That’s a lot of politics and bureaucracy for a guy who thrives on down-and-dirty management, and hates shaking hands and making speeches. And that’s why, for my money, Todd Bradley’s not going anywhere.