Palm CEO Colligan Gets A Vote Of Confidence

Palm CEO Ed Colligan

Even as Apple Inc. tries to fend off rumors that iPhone sales are slowing, and Nokia generates a flood of positive media because of better than expected sales this past quarter, struggling Palm continues to raise its hand, trying to get noticed amid all the action in the wireless sector.

The latest batch of rumors surround CEO Ed Colligan and his tenure at the company. They've been flying since the deal with Elevation Partners was announced and the private equity firm installed former Apple iPod superstar Jon Rubenstein as the executive chairman.

A series of key product delays and quality control issues dogged Palm: it became a take-over candidate, the highly hyped Foleo mobile companion device was scrubbed, the company kept posting disappointing earnings, Palm closed down all 34 retail locations last week. It all looked bleak for Colligan.

I have to tell you I've known Ed Colligan for years, dating back to his days at Radius. I've followed his career, I've interviewed him quite a bit, I've talked to folks who work with him, have worked with him, and I have found him to be a capable, engaging, energetic guy who commands the respect of his peers, knows what he's doing and is passionate about the opportunities ahead for Palm.

Ask him and he'll tell you that the smart phone market is only just beginning, that trying to pick a winner among all these big-name competitors when only 5 percent of the market has been tapped is a fool's chore. He makes a compelling case in a compelling way.

Palm is coming at the market completely differently than Nokia, Research in Motion , Apple, even Garminand the company's brand new Nuviphone (very cool if you haven't seen this one) by offering smart phone status at dumb handset prices. And that's why the company's Centro is so important to Palm's future. Some might say Centro IS Palm's future.

No question Rubenstein's past at Apple could be key to Palm's future as well. But discount the knowledge and history that Colligan himself brings to the party. Palm is having execution issues and the buck stops with Colligan. Who's to say that Colligan, working with Rubenstein, can't get these problems solved? The fact is, in this quarter-to-quarter Wall Street world, we all want instant results, drastic action, something that shows someone's in charge and getting the job done.

But none of us has the stakes in this game that Elevation Partners has. Hundreds of millions of dollars invested. And they seem more than patient, more than willing to give Colligan his shot, despite calls for his head and rumors that he's done.

So I went right to the source, and asked managing partner Roger McNamee whether there was any truth to the rumors that Colligan is being shown the door. It's a question McNamee and his team have gotten a lot lately. He tells me emphatically: "This rumor is ridiculous. Ed is our partner in the transformation of Palm. He's doing a great job! These people who think that closing the retail stores and killing the Foleo are signs of weakness have no clue how to make a company great. Ed is focusing Palm on all the right things. He and Jon Rubinstein are a tremendous team. Together, they are going to do incredible things. If there are any real stories I can help you with, let me know."

Questions? Comments?