Motorola Mobility showed off its sleek new headquarters in the Merchandise Mart on Tuesday to about 200 VIPs and reporters.
If it were for sale, the listing would be labeled "luxury" and boast features such as digital and graffiti art, concrete floors, a multiscreen game room and a rooftop deck with stunning views.
The move downtown was put in motion when Google bought the company in 2012 for more than $12 billion; it is now in the process of selling the company to Chinese computer and cellphone maker Lenovo for $2.91 billion. Google is keeping billions' worth of patents.
There was "discussion among a handful of us that were hired and working on the plan before (Google) took over," said Scott Sullivan, senior vice president of "people operations" at Motorola Mobility. "We were literally in the corner of a small building on the Google campus (in Mountain View, Calif.) ... analyzing lots of data and information and working on what would be the plan moving forward to transform the company."
About 2,000 employees have moved into the top four floors of the Merchandise Mart, far fewer than the 3,000 Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the company promoted when the move was announced in July 2012. One month later, the company said it would lay off about 700 employees in the Chicago area, or about 23 percent of its local workforce.
Not making the move downtown is Rick Osterloh, the company's president, who works out of its Silicon Valley office, as do Sullivan and Adrienne Hayes, senior vice president of global communications, among others.
Still, Emanuel welcomed Motorola Mobility back home, noting that the company was founded in Chicago (as Galvin Manufacturing Corp.). It moved to Schaumburg in 1976, with its cellphone unit opening in Libertyville in the mid-1990s.
Motorola invented the world's first commercial, portable cellphone. But rather than see Chicago become the epicenter of mobile innovation, Silicon Valley and Apple surged ahead.
Motorola split in two — Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility — in January 2011, followed by the sale of Mobility to Google. Google's sale of the company to Lenovo is expected to close this year.
A recent surge in Chicago's tech scene happened almost in spite of Motorola, rather than with the company in the lead. The city's premier co-working space for startups, 1871, arrived at the Mart first, and Groupon is headquartered about a mile north.
"Given its roots, this should have been the place," Emanuel said of Chicago as a hub for mobile and digital technology. "One of the problems and challenges was that while we have great universities … (their graduates) were using O'Hare to leave."
Offering a phenomenal work environment is a key part of persuading people to stay in the Midwest, and Motorola Mobility appears to have spared no expense in that regard.
Architecture firm Gensler was hired to transform about 120 former home interior showrooms into Motorola Mobility's new headquarters. As soon as visitors step off the main elevator, they are awash in bright pink lights, which illuminate a large Motorola logo.
The public spaces are industrial and open, blending technology, such as a movable wall of LED lights; digital and graffiti art; natural materials, such as woods and fibers; and hints of nostalgia, such as a kitchen tabletop with images from the Super Mario Bros. video game.
"We wanted to make it look like a completely different space," said Carlos Martinez, a principal and board member at Gensler, who led a tour through three of the company's four floors.
For entertainment, the facility features a video game room including most anything a 25-year-old guy would want. There is a row of large screens equipped with video game consoles, plus a pingpong table, pinball machine, two car-racing games, shelves of board games, some of them still unopened, etc. Several mini-kitchens are stocked with snacks and drinks.
On the technical side, there is a state-of-the-art anechoic chamber, a room insulated from all exterior noise, for testing devices. And in another room, machines run durability tests on cellphones by repeatedly dropping them or mimicking the effect of people repeatedly sitting on them.
And there are little touches that make the daily grind more bearable, such as allowing employees to customize their desk heights and rearrange them in some areas.
"I've come across very few" spaces like this, said Osterloh, a Silicon Valley veteran, who has worked at Skype, Good Technology and Amazon. "I think this is a gem. It's a great combination of a beautiful, historic site; a great location; and a really funky, cool new build-out that sort of shows our spirit. Some of the key things: how the labs are at the center; how they've sort of been designed so you can look in and see what's going on. That we think is what makes this so special."