Motorola essentially invented the cell phone decades ago, but it has had a lot of trouble selling them in recent years. After things became dire for Motorola, the company’s mobile side was purchased by Google in 2011 and was eventually sold off to Chinese mega-firm Lenovo. Now, almost two years after Lenovo took full control of Motorola, virtually all the jobs Lenovo inherited from Motorola have been cut.
Reports of a new round of layoffs at Motorola in recent days have been confirmed by employees of the company, some of which have worked there for decades. At the time of acquisition, Motorola Mobility employed about 3,500 people around the world, including 2,800 in the US. When this was still just a rumor, reports pointed to at least 700 jobs being cut in Motorola — more than 50% of the remaining workforce. It was actually worse than that. Motorola’s management confirmed the layoffs, attempting to couch it in terms of the total Lenovo workforce. The firings amount to 2% of Lenovo’s total worldwide employment, which is around 1,100 jobs. That means Motorola has lost 95% of the positions it had just four years ago.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Shortly after completing the acquisition, Lenovo stated Motorola would take the lead in all of Lenovo’s smartphone efforts. For a while, things seemed to be going well enough. Motorola released the Moto X Pure Edition, a fine example of the design and software features for which Motorola had become known. It also had the second generation Moto 360 smartwatch, which was widely praised. Those products were probably all in the pipeline when the acquisition was closed, though. The post-acquisition Moto has been shaping up quite differently.
Lenovo announced early this year that it was doing away with the Motorola brand name, instead going with “Moto.” It also ditched the Moto X flagship smartphones. The Moto Z is this year’s flagship phone, and it’s quite a departure. Lenovo is pushing a series of expensive modular accessories that snap onto the back of the Moto Z, which is ultra-thin and lacks a headphone jack. It also launched as a Verizon-exclusive and Lenovo has yet to ship the promised unlocked version. Consumers were not clamoring for any of that.
When Lenovo acquired Motorola, it was getting a lot of consumer goodwill and a workforce that knew how to produce solid Android devices. Google kept most of Motorola’s patents and the ATAP experimental division (home of the now-cancelled Project Ara). Lenovo is squandering what it got from Motorola by laying off almost the entire workforce and releasing phones that don’t respond to consumer demands.
Lenovo got a foothold in the US market with its acquisition of Motorola, but it’s not even clear that Motorola will continue to exist as an independent entity inside Lenovo. There are rumors that the remaining Moto jobs could be moved from Chicago to Lenovo’s US headquarters in North Carolina, but Lenovo denies this.