Employees of Freescale Semiconductor who were on a Malaysia Airlines flight presumed to have crashed were doing sophisticated work at the U.S. chipmaker, a company spokesman said.
The 20 Freescale employees, among 239 people on flight MH370, were mostly engineers and other experts working to make the company's chip facilities in Tianjin, China, and Kuala Lumpur more efficient, said Mitch Haws, vice president, global communications and investor relations.
"These were people with a lot of experience and technical background and they were very important people," Haws said. "It's definitely a loss for the company."
None of Austin, Texas-based Freescale's most senior executives were on board the Boeing Co. 777-200ER airliner that vanished from radar screens about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Saturday.
The employees who were on board, 12 from Malaysia and eight from China, came from a range of disciplines and they were part of a broad push by Chief Executive Officer Gregg Lowe to make Freescale more efficient and cost effective, Haws said.
Top-quality engineers are hard to come by for chipmakers and other technology companies, and losing them can have a major impact on business, regardless of their seniority.
While the employees on the flight account for less than 1 percent of Freescale's global workforce of 16,800 people, they were working toward the same goals and their loss will reverberate throughout Freescale, Haws said.
They had been streamlining facilities in Tianjin and Kuala Lumpur that Freescale uses for testing and packaging microchips used in automobiles, consumer products, telecommunications infrastructure and industrial equipment.
On Sunday, Freescale was organizing transportation and accommodation for the 20 staff members' families, as well as providing grief counseling, Haws said.
One of the chipmaker's long-time competitors, Texas Instruments, tweeted on Saturday: "We extend our condolences to the families and coworkers of the @Freescale employees aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370."
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