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Is Motorola's journey coming to close?

Posted: 18 Feb 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Motorola? cell phone? Google? Lenovo?

Considered as one of the pioneers of the modern cell phone and one whose name used to command authority in the mobile technology world, Motorola now seems be utilising almost every option it can take just to stay alive. From one of the leading technology companies, I can't help but wonder how Motorola ended up the way it is right now. Was Motorola a company whose reach exceeded its grasp? Or is there more to this story than meets the eye?

The re-emergence of a once-iconic American electronics company into the headlines last week brings up a nagging question.

How did Motorola, a company that 15 years ago had a market capitalisation of nearly $80 billion and 150,000 employees worldwide become the mere shadow of itself that it is today?

Motorola is back in the news as China's Lenovo Group Ltd has reintroduced Motorola-branded smartphones to China, where Motorola just two decades ago was number one in the world's most populous nation, now also the world's biggest cell phone market.

Motorola logo

In my more than two decades as a journalist covering the electronics industry, I've been fascinated by the company with the classic batwing M logo.

One of my biggest scoops came in the mid-1990s, when Motorola Semiconductor Asia Pacific President CD Tam told me in a very convincing imitation of Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk, "We will go where no man has gone before." Motorola would be the first company in the world to build a modern chip fab in China, Tam said.

It was a saga that I would track for years with a number of scoops culminating in the story that Motorola would sell the empty fab shell in Tianjin, China to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC).

The 1990s were indeed heady days, when one could choose the shares of almost any listed tech company and watch the value of the investment soar.

Yet Motorola became a modern-day Icarus when, during the late 1990s, it launched the Iridium project to send aloft scores of low-orbiting satellites, enabling people to communicate from anywhere on earth. The problem was very few of us needed to talk from the top of Mt. Everest.

Following the Iridium debacle, I was among the first to learn that Motorola Semiconductor would devolve, first with the spinoff of On Semiconductor.

Then came an interview I did with Motorola executive Pete Shinyeda, who told me the company would, for the first time, sell the chips that Motorola had previously used exclusively in its own cell phones.

Motorola was selling off its crown jewels. Shinyeda's rationale was that Motorola expected a lot of new competitors to emerge in the mobile phone business, and the company wanted to sell chips to the new players.

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