In Memory of Bob Galvin

The longtime Motorola CEO had a vision for improving our lives and mobility

Reason Torchbearer Robert W. Galvin, the former chief executive and chairman of Motorola Inc., died late Tuesday in Chicago. 

Bob was an amazing guy.  He was driven, focused and ambitious, even in his 80s, which  is not surprising given his impressive life story and all that he achieved.  I first met Bob in 2004. He called me to say he wanted to talk about transportation.   He wanted to end traffic congestion, and wanted Reason to help.  As an experienced (and perhaps a bit cynical) transportation analyst I could not help but think “Well, don’t we all?" So I wondered what new insights this retired technology CEO thought he was might be bringing to the question.  

But after just one hour sitting in a room with Bob I was transformed. His crystal clear vision of the terrible costs traffic congestion imposes on our economic growth and global competitiveness, and his absolute conviction that the problem could be solved were overwhelming.  Here was a guy who, when faced with a problem that others think will be too impossible, or too costly, to solve, ignored the naysayers and said, "Let's solve it. Let’s dig into this, get the right people involved, and do the hard work others are avoiding.” 

Since then, Reason Foundation and Bob have collaborated on the ground-breaking Galvin Project to End Congestion.  Bob and I spent untold hours sitting in the sun room of his house outside of Chicago, sometimes joined by his gracious wife Mary, discussing the problem of traffic congestion and how it could be solved. Every conversation was a journey—not just because he was so interested in transportation, but because he knew so much about solving problems.  Bob would review progress, approve ideas, and then raise the bar for what we should try and what he expected next.  Soon I could see why he was such a successful CEO.  Success today is just the baseline for what we should be striving for tomorrow.

Bob inspired me and my colleagues at Reason to develop new ideas about solving congestion and to find new ways to implement them in public policy. And he generously provided the means for us to pursue substantive research, for collaboration with universities all over the globe, and communicate our results in order to change minds and change public policy. Thanks to his vision, we are advancing plans for solving traffic congestion that will someday be recognized as crucial to our nation’s continued economic success.

But most important to me, Bob taught me that, even when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, to be—in his words, “bold, heretical, and certain that a solution can be found.”

For those who did not know Bob personally, the story of his life tells you a lot about why he was still an amazing guy in his late 80s.  During his tenure at the helm of one of America’s most recognizable companies, Bob transformed Motorola from a family-owned national manufacturer of consumer electronics into a global technology trailblazer with more than $30 billion in annual sales and more than 100,000 employees worldwide. Under his leadership, Motorola built an international reputation for innovative products, including microprocessors, mobile radios, semiconductors, and of course, cell phones, which were invented by Motorola engineer Martin Cooper in 1973. 

Bob started working full-time at Motorola in 1944 and succeeded his father, company founder Paul Galvin, in 1959. After his retirement in 2001, Bob began to pursue his own wide-ranging intellectual interests. He chaired the Task Force on Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy, which came to be known as the “Galvin Commission,” and worked with dozens of charitable and business organizations to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2004, Bob published America’s Founding Secret: What the Scottish Enlightenment Taught Our Founding Fathers, a collection of essays that highlighted the Scottish understanding of the importance of private property and belief that a nation founded on commerce could be just as powerful as one founded on force. 

As Bob’s interest in the roots of entrepreneurship grew, he began to recognize that employment opportunities are better when people are more mobile. After more than 60 years of coping with the increasing traffic in metropolitan Chicago, he had seen how the lives of more than 20,000 Motorola employees in the area had been impacted by traffic congestion. Bob knew that when people are stuck in traffic, every aspect of business suffers—deliveries can’t be made, people can’t get to work, and even job opportunities dwindle for those who don’t want to or can’t afford a long commute to the office.  

Without a formal strategy to deal with traffic congestion, Bob realized that America’s urban centers would die a slow death over the next 50 years as people and businesses flee the cities to avoid growing traffic nightmares and costs. He sought out Reason Foundation and worked with us to establish the Galvin Mobility Project in 2005.  The Project arrived at several tenets: congestion is more costly than we currently measure; we need to provide the transportation systems that people really want; we need to be creative and think in terms of tunnels and elevated structures that make travel easier and more efficient; transportation should be a commercial product provided as much as possible in a competitive market by private firms; and users should pay market prices for transportation services. Led by Bob’s strategic vision and commitment to change, Reason is building comprehensive policy recommendations that enhance mobility and help local officials develop the entrepreneurial tools that will take them past business-as-usual transportation planning. 

Entrepreneurship was always second nature to Bob Galvin, who in his 61 years with Motorola developed a participatory management culture that rewarded employee innovation and creativity while maintaining the highest standards of quality. Although his leadership guided Motorola’s strategic growth, Bob’s word was never law; he expected challenges to his authority, and he trusted his colleagues to make decisions that would keep the company profitable. 

In an interview with Reason, Bob said, “Leadership is the ability to take people elsewhere…By eliminating congestion, the Galvin Mobility Project will change the dynamics of the economy. By 2075 people will say, ‘How come things are way more effervescent than we ever expected they could have been?’ We made things possible.”

Our thoughts are with his family. Family was incredibly important to Bob, and his passing will be especially mourned by those who loved him the most. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Mary Barnes Galvin; two daughters, Gail Galvin Ellis and Dawn Galvin Meiners; two sons, Christopher Galvin and Michael Galvin; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. 

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with this amazing man, and for his friendship and vision that inspired me to look at transportation policy in a whole new light. And everyone here at Reason is determined to fulfill his vision for ending traffic congestion and spurring America to greater heights. 

Dr. Adrian Moore is vice president at Reason Foundation.

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy





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