Schroeder’s boss, Motorola Solutions’ chief technology officer Paul Steinberg, recalled attending last year’s Global Corporate Venturing Symposium. “The thing that struck me most when I was in London last summer was the number of people I spoke with who said, ‘Reese told us how to set up our venture group,’ or, ‘Reese was my mentor,’ or, ‘I learned everything I do from Reese’.
“These were large car manufacturers, large credit card companies – not small entities. His impact on the corporate-venturing community is hard to overstate. He really is one of the luminaries in this realm.”
Schroeder himself said he had mentored “probably a hundred companies or more” in the process of setting up or exploring the possibility of a venturing unit.
“Right now I am talking to three companies.”
Schroeder’s innate generosity aside, there are two main reasons for his support of venturing initiatives in other businesses. “Encouraging entrepreneurs is certainly part of it,” he said. “It is critically important for the world’s economy that these young, innovative companies get funding, grow and become major contributors.
“And it also builds the network: I always talk about the two Rs, relationships and reputation. This business is all about relationships and you develop your reputation by the behaviour that you display, as well as the companies you invest in and the co-investors you invest with.”
“I am really an evangelist – I am passionate about corporate venture capital. I think it is an important strategic tool for a corporation, so I am really encouraging firms to do it. And I always tell them, don’t just talk to me, talk to other people out there as well.”
But surely Schroeder’s greatest achievement is the creation of a venture unit at Motorola Solutions that has become an essential, integral and highly valued part of the organisation. “We have gone through a lot of change at this company over the last 15 years and this ventures program is going very strong,” he said. “That is a real testament to the contributions that it has made to the corporation.”
Schroeder says that his unit has always enjoyed strong and consistent support from the senior leadership of Motorola. “On top of that, our governance structure is pretty much the C-suite, the executive team that reports into our CEO – so we have very strong connection and visibility at that level.
“I have said before that the venture capital program over the years has become part of the fabric of the company, and that is really important because it is one of the key tools for keeping the business in continuous innovation mode.”
Top-level support is crucial to the success of any venturing program, a fact Schroeder says he is always keen to impress upon his mentees. “I think that companies are often not patient enough to let the venture program play out and succeed. You really need at least five or six years,” he explained.
“What you have seen in the past is companies trying it out for three years and then deciding it is not going to work. But it is really something you have to be in for the long haul.”
Schroeder added: “Every week I speak to a company that is starting or thinking about starting a corporate venturing program and I always stress this with them that they have to make sure that their management is bought in and understands they have to be in it for the long haul.
“In the early days, the returns you are more likely to see are the ones which fall away. It takes a longer period of time to really get to the winners, and that is typically five to seven years.”
Schroeder’s initial involvement with Motorola’s corporate venturing unit came when it was set up in 1999. He assisted on the transactional side of the business until 2004, when he was made managing director of Motorola Ventures, seven years before the company split into Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility, subsequently acquired by Google.
The unit has always focused on investments which have potential strategic value to the wider company, Schroeder said. “If it was strictly a financial investment we would find great companies and invest in them. But as a strategic investor we have to find a strategic thesis for the companies that we meet and then we have to try to connect them to the right people in the business and make sure they have the right level of support.”
He added: “As the business has grown and changed, the kinds of company we invest in has also changed. So today, if you look at our business, which is very public-safety, mission-critical intel-focused, we are very focused on companies which can help accelerate our business in that space. This is very different than seven or eight years ago when we were investing into companies that would help our cable set-top box business or our mobile phone business.”
Steinberg said: “Reese was in on the ground floor when Motorola formed its venture group in 1999 and we have done well over 200 investments since that time. This is one of the longest-standing corporate venturing groups in industry.
“The thing about Reese that makes him amazing is that there is very little he has not seen. He is very innovative in creating win-win situations with investments, he is very creative around deal constructs, and he is very thoughtful not only of what is good for Motorola Solutions but also for investees.”
Tony Palcheck, a long-time colleague of Schroeder’s at Motorola Ventures and now managing director of Zebra, which acquired Motorola Solutions’ enterprise mobility services in 2014, added: “One of the most admirable things about Reese is that he always acts with integrity and takes the high road. In an industry in which relationships are critical, Reese leads by example.
“On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Reese’s family and got to know Reese beyond his position at Motorola. He is a model family man, who has balanced a 24/7 work environment with his responsibilities as a husband and father.”
Of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Schroeder said: “It is really an honour for the entire team – we have had such great people in the history of this organisation, from Warren Holtsberg and Jim O’Connor, who were the founding members, to the great people we have today. This is as much their award as mine.”
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