The world’s largest, fastest growing and most competitive mobile phone market has also turned into one of Motorola’s biggest trouble spots. Five years ago, the U.S. company controlled more than half of China’s mobile phone market. Today, its market share has dropped to roughly 14%.
“I’m not satisfied with where we are [in China] today,” admitted Mr. Tatelman, 48, Beijing-based VP-general manager of Motorola’s mobile devices in North Asia. “We would like to be number one again, and we are investing significant resources. Our goal is to leverage our breadth and scale and global capability to win in this market.
“But, quite frankly, I’m loving it,” said the New Jersey native about working in Beijing. “One of the things that gets me up every day is that we don’t only compete against some of the strongest companies and people in the world, like Samsung and Nokia. They are some of the world’s best-managed and most well capitalized companies of any segment. I respect their capabilities, and I love competing against them in this incredibly intense environment.”
Motorola’s glory days in China date back to a period in that market’s evolution when there was very little competition. “We were the pioneers who opened this market. There were only a few players then, [but] now we have unlimited competition,” he said.
In countries like the U.S. or Hong Kong, where there are several competitive telecom companies, consumers select between a dozen or two subsidized models when they are signing up with a service provider. That’s not the case in China. The average consumer who walks into a downtown retail store in Beijing or Shanghai hoping to buy a new cell phone may have to sift through one thousand models.
Even so, Motorola clearly suffers from an image problem. While the brand is still vibrant among older Chinese consumers, it has lost significant ground among youthful trendsetters to Samsung, which benefits from South Korea’s hip, edgy image around the region, and Nokia, which has earned street cred from its cool games.
“It’s human nature, if your parents own something, you want to own something else, but it’s hard to remain fresh and youthful,” said Mr. Tatelman.
In addition to influencing style trends, young adults also spend the most money on lucrative content and data services. Determined to win back their approval, Motorola has embarked on a strategy to upgrade both the style and substance of its phones.
“We’re all about style and innovation,” said Mr. Tatelman. “The Razr V3 is symbolic of things to come, we’re launching iconic products that help differentiate the marketplace and make people want to upgrade from their existing phone.”
Music partnerships give brand urban appeal
Motorola has also focused on music, giving new phone models the capability to download and play mp3 songs. Mr. Tatelman is also teaming up with third parties in the “ecosystem of music” like wireless service providers and Viacom’s MTV music channel to provide ringtones online, host on-ground events at university campuses, even sponsor local bands.
At the same time, he has eagerly embarked on a plan to revitalize Motorola’s sales relationship with retailers, which he describes as a fun throwback to his first job behind the counter of a stereo store in New York City.
“This is in my blood,” he said. “Retail expansion is a significant part of our strategy” to penetrate China’s three and four tier cities. “The market’s biggest opportunity is in the open market, the ability to partner with retailers and distributors to bring your brand forward.”
In the past 25 years since that first sales job, he’s moved on to a variety of marketing and business development positions at telecom companies like the Lucent spin-off Visual Insights, Seagate Software and Comdisco.
Since 2001, he’s worked at Motorola’s headquarters in Liberty, Illinois, most recently as VP-general manager of the MotoPro product group, a division of its personal devices business aimed at professional consumers. Before that, he had account management roles dealing with operators such as Verizon, Alltel and Radio Shack.
“All of our markets are competitive, but in China, I have a tremendous opportunity to leverage past experiences running operator accounts and product groups into the market,” said Mr. Tatelman.
Industry insiders question whether his optimism is naive, or prescient. “Right now, Moto is the dog’s breakfast,” observed one analyst in Beijing. However, “Tatelman is actually doing some good things. Even though he’s new here and he’s an American, he really understands how to operate this market.”
Name: Michael Tatelman
Now: VP-general manager, mobile devices, North Asia
Motorola Inc. in Beijing
Who: Responsible for mobile phone sales and marketing in Greater China, South Korea and Japan, but primary market is China, the world’s fastest growing cell phone market
Challenge: Help Motorola regain its leadership position with snazzier models, built-in features like mp3 players and advertising that appeal to urban trendsetters
Obstacle: sophisticated young adults don’t want the same phone model that Dad uses.
Favorite cell phone gadget: in China, the iconic Motorola V3; in the U.S., Motorola’s 780 PDA phone
Favorite non-voice cell phone function: in China, web-surfing; in the U.S., loves 3G video calls
Favorite Beijing restaurant: The Grean Tea House, "best in fusion food, a great mix of art and cuisine"
Favorite Beijing hangout: The Centro Lounge at the Kerry Centre for "great jazz, and service"
Top tip for foreign marketers in China: Westerners can’t succeed independently, so forge solid partnerships with local partners and leverage cultural links where possible