Quick, name two former Sun Microsystem execs that became bosses of big companies? Right, Eric Schmidt (once the CTO at Sun) and now the boss of all things Google and Ed Zander (once the COO of Sun) and now the boss —whoops make that the former boss — at Motorola. Both execs came to companies that had franchises with a big upside: Google has the Internet search franchise and Motorola the wireless device franchise.
Schmidt has grown the business by figuring out how to turn the franchise into an ad driven business. Zander was instrumental in making Motorola a force in the mobile device business by helping to drive the Motorola Razr business.
But here the story diverges. Google owned the platform on which the ads would run and created a happily financial virtuous circle where more searches drove more ads and ever onward. Motorola never owned the wireless waves which connected the phones together and was always being played off against the other (Nokia, et al) mobile device makers as the big wireless carriers really controlled their business. The history of the Razr wasn’t sufficient to make up for present day financial shortcomings and now Zander is out.
Two considerations. Sun was always smarter at developing technology rather than selling it and Schmidt was groomed into the business of making good tech bets, Zander was the marketing guy which is a great position at IBM and not so great at Sun. And now Google is on the verge of bidding for wireless spectrum and failing that has enough money to go out and buy a wireless carrier. Maybe they could hire Zander to figure out how to best hawk the Google phone when it appears.