Motorola's Warrior Reveals Her Battle Plans
To follow the Razr's success, CTO Padmasree Warrior is rushing ideas from the labs to market faster than ever.
By Michal Lev-Ram, Business 2.0 Magazine writer-reporter

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- By the middle of this year, Motorola had shipped its 50-millionth Razr, making the slim clamshell a celebrated example of innovation and the driver of an incredible corporate comeback story.

But Padmasree Warrior, Motorola's chief technology officer and executive vice president, doesn't have time to dwell on the Razr's popularity. She's too busy thinking about Motorola's next act.

motorola.03.jpg
CTO Padmasree Warrior is rushing ideas from the labs to market faster than ever.
Wireless weapons
Under Warrior's watch, cutting-edge technology has made the leap from Motorola's labs into new products like these.
Motowi4 Diversity Access Point
Introduced: May 2006. With gear like this device, Motorola is unwiring areas without established telecom networks--including the entire country of Macedonia.
Dual-Tuner DVR High-Definition Set-Top Box
Introduced: February 2004. You'll soon be able to use your cell phone to set this DVR--and you can also transfer the videos to your phone to watch them on the go.
Ming
Introduced: March 2006. Talk about a smartphone: This model reads handwritten Chinese characters and scans business cards.

Warrior has considerable advantages - chiefly, 25,000 engineers whom she's gotten to blog new ideas nonstop. She's been a Motorolan since 1984, so she's accumulated wisdom from seeing the communications-gear maker through two decades of ups and downs.

And she also has the trust of CEO Ed Zander, who tried to recruit her to Sun Microsystems when he worked there and consulted her before joining Motorola.

Motorola (Charts) may seem to be on a winning streak, but it's struggling in some overseas markets, including Warrior's native India, where Nokia (Charts) has more than six times Motorola's 8 percent market share in cell phones. But Warrior says Motorola can invent its way to overseas growth.

She's set up six R&D teams abroad to scout local trends, and so far they've come up with localized handsets like the Ming smartphone, which recognizes China's complex script, and the low-end Motofone, whose advanced display reads well even under the harsh Indian sun.

Warrior's also betting that the hundreds of millions of dollars that the company has invested in Wi-Max - including $300 million in cellular pioneer Craig McCaw's startup, Clearwire - will pay off by bringing broadband to places where there's no telecom infrastructure.

And she's just getting started. Since Warrior became CTO in 2003, the number of ideas that get out of Motorola's labs and into products has risen ninefold. Here's where Warrior says Motorola's going next.

I see Razrs everywhere I go here in the States. But in some countries, your market share is way behind Nokia's. What are you doing to catch up?

We're actually gaining market share in many of the regions that we're focused on. We're No. 1 in Latin America, No. 1 in North America. In other regions, we're either No. 1 or No. 2 in many of the markets we want to go after.

We're innovating overseas: Ming, the phone we launched in China, is a compact PDA as well and has a business card scanner built in. When you go to Asia, you end up collecting hundreds and hundreds of business cards, because that's the business culture there.

The Ming is really quickly becoming the top-selling multimedia phone in China. And for the low-end market in Asia, we just launched the Motofone, which has a higher-level audio system and an electrophoretic screen that lets you read the display in bright sunshine.

With so many employees, how do you make sure the right ideas bubble up?

I'm a firm believer in the idea that the future belongs to the genius of the collaborative innovator. In the past we had this notion of engineers working by themselves in isolation and trying to come up with things. And that whole paradigm is changing.

Inside Motorola we've created a Web-based system called Innovate, where all of our 25,000 engineers are encouraged to really think about technological disruptions.

And I encourage a lot of debate. I ask my experts to get together and debate why an idea might or might not work. Through that process we select which ideas we may want to fund. We actually put a business plan together. And the ones we fund, we treat them as if they're startups and we move very quickly to get their ideas into products.

Does that mean a new idea has to be a moneymaker right off the bat?

We want to make sure that our engineers and technologists are actually working on solving real problems. It's not necessarily to show a tight-shut business case, because in the early stages it's difficult to do that. What we look for is that we solve a problem that exists in the market today.

So what are some of the problems that Motorola is trying to solve?

We believe that the next wave in communications will be created by blending the mobile world with the Internet. But in order to do that, there are some essential problems that have to be solved.

The first one is, how do you connect the unconnected? There are roughly 6.5 billion people in the world today. About 2 billion of them have some degree of connectivity, and the other 4.5 billion do not.

Many of those people are living in developing regions like China, India, Eastern Europe, etc. So we're providing solutions that meet the needs of those markets, such as affordable devices, including cell phones that cost $50 or less.

We're also innovating in these markets based on what local needs are. For example, our labs in China came up with a finger-writing recognition program that enables Chinese people to text-message in their own language.

It's a big deal, because there are about 1.3 billion people in China and there are about 13,000 Chinese characters. Each person writes those characters a different way. So text messaging in Chinese was virtually impossible, which is a shame considering that China pretty much invented writing on paper.

But these are the kinds of problems our scientists love. They took this on and came up with software for the Ming that actually recognizes characters.

That sounds great. But what about just getting the networks here in the United States to work the way they're supposed to?

That's the other thing we're doing in connecting the unconnected - when you have connectivity but you lose it. For example, when you go to a Wi-Fi hotspot, you have access to the Internet, but the minute you move away from the hotspot you lose it. That's where Wi-Max comes in.

Why are you so excited about Wi-Max?

We like to think of Wi-Max as making broadband like air - you know, available everywhere. Wi-Max offers transfer rates that are anywhere from two to 10 times faster than 3G. And it uses half as much radio spectrum. And the cost is about half.

For those reasons, Wi-Max is truly a disruptive technology for broadband. Last year we moved a substantial amount of engineering resources into Wi-Max, and we recently acquired a company called Orthogon Systems to boost our capabilities. We also just announced a relationship with Clearwire, another company that is truly a pioneer in this space.

But some of your current customers - the wireless carriers who buy your phones - have spent billions on 3G. Are you going to put them out of business by backing Wi-Max?

No, actually not. I think Wi-Max is a very complementary technology. In fact, many of our customers that own spectrum are very interested in moving into a new generation of technology. And even customers that are locked into some other technology format would want ways to optimize their spectrum to be more efficient.

So it's complementary at this point. I don't think it's a threat. Several of our customers are talking to us about it, and we are actually engaged in trials with some of them.

Some say you're in the running to be Motorola's next CEO. Would you be up for the challenge?

[Laughter] Well, I'm very happy doing what I'm doing right now. Since I became CTO three years ago, we've made a tremendous amount of progress in revitalizing innovation. There's lots left to do. I'm having fun.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.