Motorola ‘separation’ creates old-new startups

Defining Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility – the companies that resulted from the break-up – as startups is not that far-fetched.

Motorola 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Motorola Solutions)
Motorola 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Motorola Solutions)
One of the newest startups in town is actually one of the oldest tech companies in Israel, believe it or not. It’s hard to think of a company like Motorola as a startup, but given the “trauma” the company has been through after splitting itself apart into two entities, defining Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility – the companies that resulted from the break-up – as startups is not that far-fetched.
Venerable Motorola, which has been around since 1928, decided a few years ago to split – or “separate,” as the company preferred to call it – for a variety of reasons, and most analysts congratulated the company on what they felt was a wise decision.
But clearly, there are going to be consequences – business-related as well as corporate-cultural – when you monkey with an entity that has been around for 80 years. In a sense, the management and employees need to start over – making the two resulting companies into startups, in a sense, at least to the people who work there.
Indeed, one of the Motorola twins – Mobility – just recently went through a process many start-ups end up facing: an “exit,” in this case into the waiting arms of Google, which in August bought out the company, along with its 24,000 patents and 23,000 employees, for $12.5 billion.
Motorola Mobility concentrates on consumer devices (cellphones, settop boxes, etc.), while Motorola Solutions, the “business” side of Motorola, develops advanced data capture, wireless infrastructure, bar-code scanning, two-way radios and business pagers, wireless broadband networks and RFID solutions.
Motorola has a significant presence in Israel, with a large R&D center mostly associated with Motorola Solutions. The change, though, was felt here as well, and to top it all off, the Israel team just moved into new headquarters in Airport City – exacerbating the “startup” feeling among employees.
It was there that I met with one of Motorola Solutions’ top executives, Michele A. (Shelly) Carlin, a Motorola Solutions VP and the head of Human Resources in the company, who is responsible for the company’s 20,000 employees. As HR chief, Carlin perhaps more than anyone else at the company had to deal directly with many of the issues involved in splitting an entity like Motorola into two.
“The separation of Motorola is unique in a number of ways, and even though the transition went remarkably smoothly, there were still some pitfalls,” she said.
“Separating a worldwide company with the legacy and longevity of Motorola is certainly going to be a challenge, no matter how much preparation we take.”
Among the main challenges from a business point of view, she said, was ensuring that both companies maintained their identities as Motorolas.
But of course the major impact of the change was the one it had on employees, said Carlin.
“The truth is that in the end there was really little for employees to be concerned about. There had already been a clear distinction between those who worked for the divisions that became Solutions and Mobility, and the managers concentrated on their own units in those divisions.”
In fact, she said, from a personnel point of view, the separation actually created opportunities for workers.
“Many workers were able to qualify for positions that suddenly became vacant, moving up in the corporation. Many people in number two positions moved into top management positions in their departments,” Carlin said.
And the separation only did good things for Israel, she said.
“Where previously the Israel R&D center was one of several in Motorola, there’s no doubt that it has become more important, since there are fewer R&D centers now in Motorola Solutions.”
But regardless, change does scare people, at least to some extent.
“We came in fully prepared for what we expected to be a period of uncertainty among employees,” said Carlin.
“We ran seminars and consultations, and generally tried to reassure employees that the future was bright.”
One factor in that effort, she said, was focusing on the message of what exactly Motorola Solutions was all about, so that employees were clear on why they were doing what they were doing and how they could enhance the company’s mission.
“We used a concept called ‘Inside out,’ in which we stressed the core of how Motorola Solutions related to the world.”
It was a great strategy, Carlin said, one that helped to ease fears and to make the transition much easier.
Yehuda Porath, a Motorola Solutions VP and HR director for the Israel center, agreed, saying that the preparation that the company took greatly calmed nervous workers.
“The truth is that the vast majority of workers here in Israel were always associated with the division that became Solutions, so the actual impact of the separation was less dramatic here. But still there were concerns,” he said, not the least of which was connected to the move to a new, modern complex in Airport City.
“The change in the corporate structure and the change of space – in which many people, for example, lost their offices and found themselves working in a large open space – was a cause of concern to some workers,” said Porath.
But now that everyone has gotten used to both ideas, employees are full of praise – both for the way the separation was taken care of and the way the move to Airport City was handled, he noted.
That, said Carlin, is the general feeling in the company worldwide.
“For me, leading HR through the transition was perhaps the most challenging – and most rewarding – job I have ever done. I’m glad to be a part of the effort to help make a difference.
It was hard work and there were difficult moments, but I feel we rose to the challenge,” she said, adding that “we learned a great deal in the separation, and that has made Motorola Solutions an even better company.”