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Rubinstein In, Colligan Out as Palm CEO

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on June 10, 2009

Palm’s announcement today naming Jon Rubinstein chairman and CEO, replacing Ed Colligan as chief executive, was hardly a surprise. Rubinstein, a former senior Apple executive, has been running the show since taking on the odd title of executive chairman nearly two years ago. But Colligan’s departure marks a final break with the old Palm, and I can’t help taking a look back at the company’s tumultuous history.

colligan.jpgI first met Ed Colligan when he came to my office in early 1996 to show me a prototype of the Palm Pilot (it was still two words then.) I was new at this game then and the Pilot, billed as a “connected organizer” was one of the few products then or since that wowed me at first sight.

Given everything that befell Palm, it's a wonder that the company survived. The founders, product visionary Jeff Hawkins, CEO Donna Dubinsky, and marketing chief Colligan, were unable to raise the money needed to bring the Pilot to market and had to sell the company to modem maker U.S. Robotics. USR promptly turned around and sold itself to 3Com, which never was able to figure out quite what to do with Palm, but nearly killed it with its meddling.

In 1998, the unhappy founders left Palm to found Handspring. Many followers came to regard Handspring as the "real" Palm and the company made history of its own by developing the Treo, the first true smartphone. After further sturm und drang, including spinning out the software to a separate company and an IPO of Palm, Handspring reunited with Palm in 2003.

Dubinsky left management, though she stayed on the board until last year, and Hawkins gradually drifted away to pursue it real love, brain research. Colligan stayed on as CEO, but the once-dominant Palm struggled, losing market share to a flood of BlackBerrys and iPhones. In June, 2007, Elevation Partners, led by venture capitalist Roger McNamee and U2 front man Bono, bought a 25% controlling interest and installed Rubinstein. Though Colligan nominally remains the chief executive, he faded more and more into the background during the runup to last week's launch of the Palm Pre.

According to a Palm press release, Colligan plans to take some time off, then join Elevation.

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Reader Comments

David Robins

June 11, 2009 04:48 AM

I wish Mr. Rubinstein and Palm the best of luck. My first organizer was a palm back in 1998, but Palm was never as sexy as blackberry or iPhone after that.

David Robins

Only IT Since 77

June 11, 2009 05:50 AM

The "run-up to [this] week's launch of the Palm Pre" was botched horribly.

Then there is the serious problem of $99 iPhone that shipped 72 hours ago. If AT&T now begins to offer a 1GB/mo data tier for $15/mo (with shutoff or optional on-the-spot upgrade to the next tier, not metered penalty for data overage), then combined with existing WAL*MART distribution, the AppStore will takeover the Earth (rendering Android, webOS and Windows Mobile weird stuff that nobody wants). If AT&T/Apple allow the 3G for $199 and 3GS for $299 without a contract (using the GoPhone system like iPhone v1), then they takeover the game.

So in this instance, Sprint needs Palm as bad as Palm --and they need the low-end Eos and some agreement with Target and dozens of other retailers along with near perfect execution. I can easily understand their decision to bring Rubinstein back for that with Culligan's track record in such matters, though as much as I wish it to be different, I don't really think it will help. Bono should have stuck with the U2 iPods --maybe a U2 iPhone.


June 11, 2009 06:08 AM

Does this guy proofread his work at all?

Bradley Martin

June 11, 2009 07:30 PM

With Rubinstein at the helm I hope Palm will continue the charge targeting RIM as the competitor (not Apple). It's very simple... The iPhone is perceived as a toy at worst and an entertainment device at best by most corporate telecom managers; therefore the iPhone has limited reach to corporate users.

In the LA area, I see the corporate Blackberry user lugging along their personal iPhone. But, get the Blackberry out of their hands and put the Palm Pre in it and the iPhone will be passed down to the teenager.

And if Mr. Rubinstein wants a killer app to help facilitate that transition; give me a nudge!

-Bradley Martin-
SplinterRock Technology Consultant

June 13, 2009 02:15 PM

Palm’s Management Team has Zer0 [0] Black Woman and Zer0 [0] Black Man
“Black People not included” is the label that Palm currently has placed on its management team and the doors to its executive’s suite. This is Palm’s version of “Batteries not included” usually seen on box’s toy. Except that this is no game but serious business.
Of all the ten people who are in Palm’s management team, there is absolutely no black person at all among them. Black Executives – women and men – both are left at the door, outside of Palm’s top management team.
Is this = opportunity?
Is it Sexism + Racism?
1. See for Yourself at
2. Check the Numbers, and
3. Face the Truth

By Diversity Truth Pyramid SM for

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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