There was much speculation when Jon Rubinstein joined Palm (PALM) in 2007 that he’d eventually run the company if it could get back on track. He was lured out of retirement for the challenge, had the support of the company’s investors who’d recruited him, and was loaded with fresh ideas. Many thought it was a question of when not if. Now they have their answer. Wednesday, Palm announced the former Apple (AAPL) exec’s promotion to chairman and CEO.
Known as an effective manager, a team builder and an engineering whiz, Rubinstein spearheaded the rapid deployment of the iMac and the development of the iPod division as Apple’s head of hardware engineering. Since joining Palm as executive chairman, he’s been the head honcho responsible for both R&D and product roadmaps. The Palm Pre, the company’s new flagship smartphone, evolved on his watch.
As Chairman and CEO, Rubinstein will have to show he learned a lot more than just how to make good products while working with Steve Jobs (the two worked together at NeXT and Apple). He’ll be at the controls for the Pre’s global rollout and what is sure to be a substantial business development push.
Already, he’s drawn a number of well regarded people into the fold. Michael Abbott, the Senior VP of Application Software and Services was the general manager of .NET services at Microsoft (MSFT) before Rubinstein recruited him. Mike Bell, Palm’s SVP of Product Development, spent 16 years at Apple.
Like Owen Van Natta, who left a senior roll at Facebook to end up running its competitor, MySpace, Rubinstein will be looking back at his former colleagues at Apple as competitors. Though he’s said in the past he cares about making a good Palm product, not an iPhone killer (phrasing aside), he’ll be going head to head with the iPhone (and for that matter RIM’s (RIMM) Blackberries, Android phones, and the host of other products that make up the smartphone category).
It’s a formidable challenge given the Pre’s later entrance. Even with strong sales of the Pre, Palm has a long way to go. One product rarely turns a company entirely around. To reach the kind of influence and significance Palm once had, there’s much more to be done.
Outgoing CEO Ed Colligan won’t be fading away from Palm entirely. After sixteen years at the company, and helping to engineer this transition, he’ll take a vacation and then take on a new role at Palm investor, Elevation Partners.
In a statement, Colligan said he was very proud of Palm’s accomplishments. “We pioneered two major product categories and I believe we are on our way to defining the standard for the mobile web.”
In a blog post, Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel and Richard Jones told fans and followers that they “feel the time is right to begin the process of handing over the reins. This is the latest stage in a long journey for us founders, which began in a living room in East London in 2002, and took us to the headquarters of one of the biggest media companies in the world.”
Last month CBS announced a plan to consolidate its radio websites and Last.fm into a new unit. Following that news, there’s some speculation cultural changes as a consequence of the company’s far more corporate parent underlay the departure decisions. While that may be true, or part of the decision making calculus, much may derive from the simple need for change and challenge. The founders spent 7 years building out their entrepreneurial vision, achieving some impressive milestones along the way. Now that the company is more established, the tasks at hand are different and the group is probably ready to try out something new.
The team will remain as consultants until September while CBS seeks replacements.