Motorola: 2008 ‘best year in history,’ except for mobile devices
It’s no secret that economic times are tough, arguably the worst they’ve been in 70 years, according to some experts. In fact, it’s almost impossible to escape the poor economic news, which is trumpeted by media outlets of all kinds.
To a lesser extent, the struggles of Motorola also have been well chronicled, from the high-profile battle with key shareholder Carl Icahn to the rapid market-share loss of the company’s commercial handset division to the thousands of layoffs the company has announced during the past several months.
While the problems facing the commercial handset unit have been the focus of Wall Street analysts, the plight of the rest of the company — most notably, the portion that delivers mission-critical communications solutions to public-safety entities — has been ignored or simply described as “healthy” in most news accounts. But last week, Motorola co-CEO Greg Brown said that portion of the company is more than holding its own.
“Last year, in 2008, if you take mobile devices and put it [aside] for a minute, Motorola had its best year in history,” Brown said during a speech to Motorola’s channel partners in Las Vegas last week.
During 2008, the non-commercial handset portion of Motorola generated $18 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in earnings, while setting records for public-safety sales, Brown said.
“I don’t think a lot of people know that Motorola had its best year ever, and that’s OK — I don’t mind being the underdog,” he said.
Perceiving Motorola as an underdog in the public-safety market is hard to fathom, but that role may make sense in other sectors.
Brown acknowledged that the company’s challenges make his job “unbelievably difficult” at times. The economic downturn has not made that job any easier, but Brown repeatedly noted that the tough economy represents an opportunity for businesses to “get leaner, stronger and more focused.” He also expressed optimism that Motorola would be able to benefit from projects funded by the economic-stimulus package.
“I believe, in this time, the strong have an opportunity to get stronger, the weak will go away, and those in the middle will have a chance to define what they’re going to be,” Brown said.
Certainly there are plenty of opportunities in the public-safety realm, where interoperability grants, 800 MHz rebanding and narrowbanding should provide a much-needed infusion of cash into the sector that should be bolstered by stimulus money in the short term.
In terms of long-term prospects, Brown even expressed confidence that the economic downtown today will not result in a slowdown of public-safety projects down the road.
I would love for this assertion — made during a brief encounter after Brown gave his speech — to be correct, as many industry sources have expressed concern that the public safety’s long planning cycles will mean the greatest impact of the economic downturn will not be felt for a few years in the first-responder sector.
Meanwhile, let’s hope that Motorola’s commercial handset unit does not become such an anvil that it drags down the rest of what appears to be a very healthy company.
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