Reshaping the World's Mobile Landscape

Iqbal Arshad (MEM '97) launched the original Droid smartphone thanks to lessons he learned in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program.

Iqbal Arshad (MEM '97).

It was 2008, and Motorola was looking for a way to expedite the process of launching its new Droid phone.  

To help make that happen, Iqbal Arshad (MEM ' 97), who was Motorola's Corporate Vice President and EMEA General Manager at the time, turned to lessons he learned in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program.

"I took a project management course, and we went through how the Egyptians built the pyramids and how Kelly Johnson built the SR-71 Blackbird at Skunk Works," Arshad said. "I was fascinated by those examples and how they were able to execute a project of that scale and magnitude."

Arshad took the knowledge he gained in MEM and acted like a startup founder. He recruited 200 people for a new team, created different processes and a new supply chain, retooled the company's factory, and created new software and hardware teams. His team members were based in Mountain View, California, Dallas, and China, taking advantage of different time zones to make progress 24 hours a day.

"We were able to execute around the clock in a balanced and intelligent way," Arshad said, "and that was a cue I took from learning how the Egyptians and Skunk Works program managed their projects."

Thanks to Arshad and his team, the original Droid smartphone was designed in only seven months as opposed to the 21 months previously projected. The phone put Android on the map and reshaped the mobile landscape. Android now serves billions of people and is the most dominant computing platform on earth.

"When you go to school you never know how you'll be able to apply what you learn," Arshad said. "MEM gave me an understanding of how to define problems and needs, and MEM also helped me understand important elements of running large teams, complex technology programs, and companies."

Arshad continued to drive innovation. He left his mark throughout the mobile and computing market by creating a number of industry-first products, including Google's first Android tablet, the first Android Wear smartwatch, and the first modular smartphone computing platform and ecosystem. He also led the creation of foundational 4G technology, including the first 4G communications processor, multiple software platforms, and award-winning consumer experiences.

Today, he is the founder and CEO of xCoefficient, where he builds future-proof hardware, software, and machine learning system solutions in the mobile, computing, and Internet of Things domains. Arshad is an investor and an advisor, and he helped develop and is an advisor for Northwestern's Center for Deep Learning. He recently talked about his views on innovation, leadership, and what it takes to build a successful team.

On your LinkedIn profile, your header image says "Accelerating disruptive innovation." What does that statement mean to you?

The world around us is being rebuilt with three core innovation platforms; mobile, cloud, and AI. The deployment of 5G mobile communications in combination with low latency AI clouds will transform how people, machines, and services interact with each other. I believe transitioning every organization to leverage these foundational innovation platforms represents our greatest opportunity to solve important problems facing our society and create inspiring opportunities.

When I say "accelerating disruptive innovation," what I mean is that very difficult and high impact problems can be solved by mobile/5G, cloud and AI. At xCoefficient, our goal is to work with global tech companies and game-changing startups to advance our mission.

As you look back on your career and your accomplishments, what are you proudest about?

Building a team with an inspiring vision. People are the most important thing. Without people, you can't build anything. I've always valued people before anything else.

How do you go about building a world-class, multi-disciplined team?

The principle that I've always used is to create a mission that can bring together a highly capable group of individuals who are like-minded and also aligned on accomplishing that mission. That's when you're able to recruit the best people, build the best teams, and get the most out of people. You're also able to minimize the typical corporate politics because people are all aligned, focused, excited, and motivated. They want to wake up in the morning and pursue their purpose.

What was the mission you created to get the original Droid phone launched?

I created this mission to build an alternative to Apple iOS and show why creating an open system was important for solving a lot of problems. That was important so we could scale and bring smartphone capability and computer power to every person on the planet. That was really inspiring. The second mission was to save the company we all admired very much. If we were to do that, that'd be a huge accomplishment. 

What does it take to be a successful leader?

Successful leaders start with a high-impact, inspiring mission. They take great care in hiring diverse talent and building effective teams. The best ones allocate time to develop a set of appealing and measurable values to create a healthy culture. They also do not believe in hierarchy and promote that the best ideas can come from anywhere to harness an organization's full potential. They relentlessly champion the mission and demonstrate high integrity. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a startup of their own?

My advice would be to solve a meaningful problem that is of value to a maximum number of customers, and then create an exciting mission around that problem. Hiring is the single most important thing — hire the best people. Create the best culture you can through a value system, and do actually have a management system to manage the execution of the product or service. Without execution, nothing matters.

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