On one occasion, Mr. Chen overrode objections from Motorola executives opposed to bringing to China the Moto X Force, which was designed for Western markets, according to a former manager. Mr. Chen liked the phone, with the world's first shatterproof display, and thought it could do well in China.

That meant Motorola engineers had to tweak the phone's hardware and software because China's cellular frequencies are different and Google apps don't work there.

The Moto X Force flopped in China, which some employees attributed to Motorola's lack of brand recognition and marketing.

Mr. Yang said in the recent interview that differences in opinion are normal between subordinates and bosses. Lenovo declined to make Mr. Chen available for interview. Mr. Osterloh didn't respond to requests for comment.

With Motorola failing to make major headway in either of the world's two largest economies and demand for personal computers slowing, Lenovo in August 2015 unveiled a plan to cut $1.35 billion in costs annually and to eliminate 3,200 jobs companywide.

A former Motorola engineer in Chicago, whose team of nearly 100 people developed handset prototypes, recalls a meeting where they were told the department would be eliminated and its jobs moved to China. The engineer's last task was packing up manufacturing equipment to dispatch overseas.

The cuts helped Motorola briefly return to profitability in the last quarter of 2015.

In March 2016, Mr. Osterloh left and later became Google's hardware chief, presaging a wave of departures of Motorola executives. Mr. Yang said departures are normal in any integration. "We keep the talent that we want to keep," he said.

In the quarter ended September, Lenovo's smartphone market share in China was less than 2%, down from about 12% three years earlier, according to IDC. Motorola slipped to sixth place in the U.S., from among the top five throughout 2014 and 2015. Its China shipments remain negligible, IDC says.

While Lenovo moved up two notches to No. 6 in IDC's global smartphone ranking in the third quarter of last year, IDC analyst Bryan Ma says it isn't clear whether the company will be able to hold on to the gain.

In September, Lenovo announced another 1,000 layoffs, mostly at Motorola, according to people familiar with the cuts. In November, Lenovo transferred Mr. Chen to its customer-service division.

Write to Kathy Chu at kathy.chu@wsj.com and Juro Osawa at juro.osawa@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 17, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)

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