Colligan Gets Smacked by Palm

It was just a matter of time, and most of the folks I'm talking to have been surprised thus far that Palm CEO Ed Colligan lasted as long as he did, after former Apple exec Jon Rubinstein stepped in as executive chairman.

Today, the two are playing a high stakes game of musical chairs. Rubinstein, installed by lead Palm investor Elevation Partners (Roger McNamee, U2's Bono, Fred Anderson), assumes Colligan's job as CEO, and Colligan will re-surface as a partner at Elevation.

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The writing has been on this wall for more than a year. And it's likely Colligan's departure will be received bullishly by Wall Street.

Facts are facts: Colligan's a really nice guy, a capable marketer and a fine leader. He also happens to be a great interview. I've known him for some time, and I've always had respect for him as a quality guy and tech exec.

But like a coach trying to shepherd an under-performing team, Colligan got shown the door after years of quality and execution missteps by the group he was trying to lead.

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The Palm Pre finally hit the market, and by most estimates did very well its first weekend out. But with rumors of manufacturing backlogs and the possible inability of the company and its carrier partner Sprint to meet demand, Palm still has some issues ahead. Big ones.

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Not to mention Apple's steep iPhone price cuts, upcoming handsets from Research in Motion, and Colligan's legacy of the wildly over-priced Palm Pro and the Folio debacle, and the time might indeed be right for a change in the C-suite.

Palm's shares, I believe, have gotten way out ahead of themselves. This was a $3 stock before the Pre's CES debut. It's at $12 and change now? Come on. Palm has no successful execution track record, but maybe the company will have better luck under Rubinstein, who's cut from the Steve Jobs mold, where image, innovation and execution are everything.

Palm's got a steep, uphill climb ahead of it. And until the Verizon carrier agreement kicks in for the Pre six months from now, Rubinstein might have to be satisfied with RIM and Apple scraps.


UPDATE: A Palm official took issue with the tone of this post and requested some balance, emailing me that Palm remains 100 percent behind Ed Colligan, saying:

"Without Ed's foresight and courage, Palm would not be where it is today. He conceived and executed the original Elevation investment and encouraged Jon Rubinstein to get out of his hammock in Mexico to join Palm. We are extremely grateful to Ed for everything he has done for Palm over the past 16 years, and especially for his leadership over the past two years to keep the company on track through our transformation."

Questions? Comments?