Remembering Bob Galvin and Steve Jobs

America and the world lost two business visionaries and leaders this month: Steve Jobs and Bob Galvin.

I knew Bob well enough to call him Bob. He wouldn’t have expected Mr. Galvin, although he wouldn’t have corrected anyone for using either. I can’t imagine anyone calling Steve “Mr. Jobs.” Funny how comfortable we become with our great leaders, as if they are somehow friends. Both men had genius, and through their vision and leadership both men created industries– at least one each. They were much different people–different generations, different educations, and different paths to the top. Steve built his own business; Bob took over his father’s business. Each had different gifts of leadership.

I always thought of Bob as the Dean of American business. I don’t think Steve would have made that claim, or even wanted the title. Bob gave quality a lot of visibility, both in the way he approached leading his business and in his public leadership. I think everyone would agree Six Sigma was birthed at Motorola. Bob wasn’t the father, but he nurtured it none the less. Bob provided the leadership that set Motorola on its journey to receive a 1988 Baldrige Award and then had the courage to tell Motorola’s supplier community that if they wanted to do business with Motorola, they, too, would have to apply. He knew what the benefits would be to his business and the country.

Bob took an early position on ISO9000 and said its requirements weren’t strong enough to drive excellence. Dr. Juran had said the same thing. I’m guessing Bob asked Dr. Juran about it. Bob gave Dr. Juran a lot of credit and a great deal of respect. Bob left us with a raft of sound bites of wisdom. A couple that come quickly to mind are, “Start with a billion dollar business and grow it by 15% for 10 years and you got something.” He wasn’t a status quo guy. He said, “No dollar invested in developing people was ever wasted.” He believed in the value of people. In the 1980s, Bob followed the lead of David Kearns, then CEO of Xerox, and hosted a summit of business and engineering school deans. In a meeting room filled with the who’s who of the country’s elite education leaders, he was posed this question: “Mr. Galvin, what do you do if you’re unable to convince your senior executives that this quality stuff is the right thing to do?” It didn’t take Bob more than a heart-beat to answer, “I fire them.” Of course the room burst into applause and laughter. But when you looked at Bob’s face on the screen – bigger than life – he wasn’t laughing. He was serious.

Mr. Galvin last joined ASQ in 2009 when he attended the World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Minneapolis. He attended ASQ’s Executive Roundtable along with Val Feigenbaum. They had great stories about the early days of quality. Their presence was a real gift.

It seems important to thank Bob for his leadership, for his vision, for the jobs and careers his vision helped create. To thank him for taking risks. And in the case of quality, to thank him for speaking up. He knew quality was essential to success and the quality he spoke about was more than the quality of products. He cared about the quality of his business. Mr. Galvin was a pioneer. His legacy lives on in the hearts of his family and in the hearts of the tens of thousands of people who worked for Motorola under his leadership. His legacy lives on in the companies now led by Motorola’s executives. His legacy lives on in the millions of people inspired by his example of leadership and his conduct.

Bob said once that he didn’t really know what responsibility was until his father handed him the keys to the business. In that metaphor, I think those who understand quality should feel similar responsibility.

Steve and Bob changed the world for the better, and they both understand that they had a responsibility to do so. Who are the great business leaders who have inspired you to raise your voice while they made the world better?

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9 Responses to Remembering Bob Galvin and Steve Jobs

  1. Nathan Lawrence says:

    While I love the article, it left me wondering where the info about Steve Jobs is?

  2. Dr. Kenneth R. Thompson says:

    I knew Bob Galvin and interviewed him in Organizational Dynamics several years ago. He was such a gracious and visionary leader that knew the importance of quality and having a customer focused and employee centric organization. His book, Ideas of Ideas is still my primer toward creating an exciting engaging workforce. God bless him for all he has done over the years.

  3. Mary Austin says:

    I was a second generation Motorolan. I heard Bob Galvin’s name from a young age and was one of the original groups at Motorola learning and using Six-Sigma. I’m grateful to Bob for what he brought to American business and my career. Steve Job’s brought so much to my life and I admired his genius from the 1st time I became aware of Apple. I worked on a development project at Motorola for Apple and I remember the 1st all in one Mac’s we had in our R&D test area. I still have an 8 year old MacBook where I maintain my most valuable information. I don’t trust my new HP that much. IPODs are just part of daily life.

    I grieve the loss of both of these men. As I approach retirement I am also grieving the loss of what I had hoped would be a lifelong career with Motorola. Unfortunately that ended in the 90′s.

  4. Vic Figurelli says:

    Bob Galvin graciously accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at an annual management meeting of my former employer. He made it clear his passion for continuous improvement in an enterprise through the use of the Baldrige Criteria. He also made it very clear that the responsibility for making it happen lay with senior management. Unfortunately, we had a leadership change, and the new leaders failed to listen to his wise words.

  5. Michael Clayton says:

    Both men were far from perfect, but decisive and visionary, with respect for what the customer really needed. Hopefully the full story of each of their lives will evolve as the lessons from their mistakes are as valuable as their many successes. A caricature of the two of them would see Bob as strongly anti-union, but providing “shop steward” role in his HR group to the dismay of some of his 800 pound gorillas, and Steve as somewhat of a tyrant, and Zen Master in his design philosophy. I see a Nixon Republican meeting a Nerdy troublemaker when Apple created the Mac family around the Motorola microprocessor. California Cool vs Illinois Neckties and Suits.
    In Arizona, we averaged the two styles, suits for customer visits, levis for office life.

    Bob Galvin let Dan Noble start and run the semiconductor group, in Arizona, far from Illinois headquarters, as they agreed it needed creative nurturing not dominated by the bigger equipment divisions. That was great idea, in my opinion. Once the semi group grew up, the conflict between equipment divisions and components division led to breakup of the company. Bob was disappointed that the Board removed his son, and that is another long story. Steve’s complex life is now the subject of at least one new book, although I like Herzfield’s book about the great days of making the Mac.

    I worked for Motorola for 30 years, and was given learning opportunities for statistical methods, logistics, modeling, device physics, all classes that are given only in colleges now days but were part of our life at Motorola, with world-class experts brought in on any technical or managerial subject. That was important for a highly globalized company, that still ran its own development, design, manufacturing and sales for many years.

    The Apple-Motorola co-development efforts were confused by a three-way project with IBM at one time. Those supply chain and design stories should be told going back to 1980′s and followed to present time. That would make a great story, as Apple moved from Motorola to Intel chips after Motorola went astray in its high tech manufacturing (in my opinion) after no-bidding the IBM PC chip leaving simpler chips as their focus, high volume, lower margin. Both men understood that quality is defined by the customer experience.

  6. TENG AN TEE says:

    The world lost a key driver in Quality Leadership. Motorola was the symbol for Quality,especially at the early 1980′s, 1990s and 2000s. Motorola invested huge efforts in training and developing people. I was lucky that I joined Motorola in 1980
    and spent 21 years in Engineering and Quality department. I saw the drive and rise of
    Motorola under Bob’s leadership and benefited from his great leaderships and cultures he created.I received a book from him -” The founder’s Touch” given to me in 1997 and is the most previous book I have. A truely great man in changing the world and quality thinking.



  8. Pavel Masek says:

    I have read all available books (to me) about Galvins and Noble. It was nice to read about their good and bad decisions. Motorola had dark and bright years, but the Galvins with other people created the iconic company to remember.
    Well, I have never been to the States, but for some reason I´m interested in the Motorola story. I´m also collecting some stuff as a hobby. Would be nice to hear more from Motorola employees about their memories.

    Just go to and contact if you want. Thanks! P.M.

  9. Ron Kenett says:

    Bob Galvin was a role model to the quality profession and industry in general. I met him on several occasions, one of them being a recording of a TV program on Quality, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow lead by Dr. Juran. His vision and experience made him an outstanding leader. Mr. Galvin was kind enough to contribute a foreword to two of my publications. As a tribute to this renaissance man I am providing below two quotes from these:

    “At Motorola we use statistical methods daily throughout all of our disciplines to synthesize an abundance of data to derive concrete actions…. How has the use of statistical methods within Motorola Six Sigma initiative, across disciplines, contributed to our growth? Over the past decade we have reduced in-process defects by over 300 fold, which has resulted in a cumulative manufacturing cost savings of over 11 billion dollars”. From the forward to MODERN INDUSTRIAL STATISTICS: Design and Control of Quality and Reliability, Kenett and Zacks, Duxbury Press, 1998, Spanish edition 2000, 2nd paperback edition 2002, Chinese edition 2004.

    “Perfect quality, perfect delivery, perfect reliability, perfect service — these are
    achievable. … The quality system that will be embraced by any particular
    organization who takes the subject very seriously will aim for those goals and be
    measurable by the appropriate and dedicated use of the statistical systems that are
    now readily available.” From the foreword of the Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability, F. Ruggeri, R. Kenett and F. Faltin (Editors in Chief), John Wiley and Sons, 2007.

    It is people like Galvin who taught us what quality is all about.

    Ron S. Kenett, Ph.D.
    President, The Israel Statistical Association
    Research Professor, University of Turin, Italy
    Chairman and CEO, The KPA Group