This is a brilliant story well told. In Eccentric Orbits a retiree goes to bankruptcy court and writes a personal check as a deposit on the Iridium satellite constellation. Cost of Iridium development to Motorola and its partners? $6 Billion+
The check was for $1.5 Million.
This happens in the latter half of the book but when I read it was a highpoint. It takes fortitude to put your own money in when no investor will. The retiree, Dan Colussy, was the former CEO of Pan Am. Colussy saw the potential of Iridium at the same time its creator, Motorola, was doing its utmost to decommission the constellation and burn the satellites up in the atmosphere. Iridium was Bob Galvin’s dream, Motorola would no longer sell technology to tele-communication operators, it would become the first global operator.
While Iridium was the father’s dream it was not his son’s. Upon his father’s retirement Chris Galvin ascended to the role of CEO to find Motorola’s cash cow mobile handset business under siege by Nokia. He reacted by attempting to refocus the company on the consumer market. Business units were shuttered or sold off and you know how that strategy turned out. Motorola as a US consumer electronics giant no longer exists.
While what remains of Moto is a shadow of what it once was, Iridium went from a launch day where no one made any satellite calls to having parts of its network in the sky hammered with calls as service people around the world call home for Mother’s Day.
The original Iridium constellation was a technological marvel designed by three of Motorola’s smartest weirdos, Bary Bertiger, Ray Leopold and Ken Peterson. It was put into orbit by a brilliant shitkicker, Dannie Stamp. How it was created and why it was a marvel is discussed in detail but the bulk of the book covers the battle to save the constellation from being burned up.
Colussy starts out alone and with no financial backing but finds allies in the Pentagon, the White House and in the intelligence community. Raising money is an ongoing problem but navigating obstacles becomes easier as he picks up compatriots.
A CIA spook shows up to his first Pentagon meeting and starts negotiating with the assembled uniforms on Colussy’s behalf. Then the spook starts showing up at other meetings with other people having not been told by Colussy about those meetings. Being smart enough not to gaze behind the curtain Colussy takes the hint and the spook is invited to officially join his team. Someone in an agency building somewhere decided Dan Colussy was the best option to keep Iridium flying. They sent him someone else to help make that happen.
There are many obstacles to Colussy's team gaining control of Iridium and a number of them come back again and again. Among the collection of existing satellite providers and bellicose telecommunication billionaires it is Motorola which emerges as the primary antagonist. Letting Iridium burn becomes the default corporate position, the company threatening to initiate the deorbit sequence regularly. Motorola becomes so unruly to deal with that the US government refuses to sign any contracts with the new Iridium if Motorola has any involvement with the new company.
Colussy and his patchwork team of investors do win the battle for Iridium and he saves the constellation from destruction. The reborn company goes through numerous CEOs until they find one that sticks. Eventually it becomes the going concern with a profitable future that Dan Colussy could see when he was retired and playing with a first generation handset at his house.
It was a hell of a journey to get there.