BLG Leadership Insights

Palm’s Face lift: Leaders Have to Look for other Leaders

Palm was at the center of the PDA revolution in the mid-90s. However, once smartphones entered the arena, offering PDA functions with the addition of cellular connectivity, Palm started to lose their unique place in the market. Palm couldn’t compete successfully in the world of smartphones–especially with Apple, RIM, and Nokia boldly leading the way. Palm’s leadership needed to innovate or retire.

Palm’s old CEO, Ed Colligan, initially dismissed the iPhone and entered the smartphone battle far too late–leading to Palm’s slow downfall. The smartphones Palm managed to create weren’t innovative enough to attract consumer attention and they often simply repackaged their older, less innovative, phones.

In 2007 Palm, knowing their internal limitations, hired Jon Rubinstein who, in his Apple days, was the creative force behind the iPod and the iMac. In the past few weeks, Rubinstein has succeeded Ed Colligan as CEO and plans to reinvent Palm and make it like Apple a cutting edge company. Rubinstein’s influence has led to Palm’s new smartphone offering, the Pre, which offers WebOS and a touch screen. Palm will finally start to compete with other smartphone companies.

Ed Colligan will still have a financial stake in Palm but his decision to bring Rubinstein on board, with the promise of future leadership role, was a wise move. Colligan didn’t know the pulse of the smartphone industry and Palm paid the price for it. However, once Colligan realized that innovation was more important than recycling PDA designs he influenced change and hired Rubinstein who was highly sought after. Leadership isn’t always about being the most innovative or up-to-date person–it’s about knowing who is and creating performance-momentum.