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Layoffs hit Bose as the company focuses on its ‘most popular’ products

The Framingham-based audio firm’s workforce has been reduced by about 2,000 people in recent years.

Bose headsets on the bench before an NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 23.John Amis/Associated Press

Bose Corp. has been cutting jobs and shifting its focus as the audio company, known for its noise-canceling headphones and portable speakers, faces declining sales and growing competition.

The Framingham-based firm most recently cut its workforce by about 245 people in March, and its headcount has been shrinking at a rate of 1,000 per year since 2019, according to documents published by the company.

Joanne Berthiaume, a spokesperson for Bose, confirmed layoffs occurred several weeks ago, in an e-mail to the Globe. She would not share further details on Bose’s headcount or business strategy, citing its status as a privately held company.

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Employees who were let go or resigned said Bose has been struggling to find its footing over the past few years. They cited meetings at which executives said the company had been missing sales goals as new products, from hearing aids to audio glasses, were not panning out as expected. Meanwhile, Bose has been losing market share to larger competitors like Apple.

Seven former employees interviewed by the Globe — who asked not to be named because they agreed not to disparage the company or feared their severance packages would be affected — said Bose has been conducting “rolling layoffs” over the past few years. Bose’s public reports show it employed 9,000 people in 2019, 8,000 in 2020, and 7,000 in 2021.

Berthiaume said the most recent cuts were made so Bose could focus on “the products and technologies that matter most to our customers.” She said the company will continue research and development on its “most popular” items, such as headphones, speakers, soundbars, and audio equipment for cars.

“While we’ve reduced staff in some areas, we’re continuing to hire in others,” she said, adding that the firm has about 200 open positions.

Leading the effort to turn Bose around is chief executive Lila Snyder, who started in September 2020. She replaced Phil Hess, who stepped down in January of that year after two years at the helm.

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Several former employees said the most recent layoffs eliminated Bose’s health division, a group that had been working on a pair of hearing aids that were cleared by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Snyder, who hails from consulting firm McKinsey & Company, told employees in late February that an independent review of the company’s business strategy led her to determine Bose should no longer be selling hearing aids, three employees said.

To some, the move was unexpected. A second version of the hearing aid product was already being manufactured, and another health division product — wireless headphones intended to help people fall asleep faster — had been cut a few months prior to allow that division to focus on hearing aids.

Bose also has a professional division, which sells audio equipment to stadiums, churches, and other venues, as well as a business unit that makes headphones for pilots and the military. It’s unclear how they were affected by the recent layoffs.

There are other signs that Bose is cutting costs.

The company decided before the pandemic to shutter its 119 Bose retail stores. Last fall, Bose sold its office campus in Stow, where it had 1,500 employees, according to the town. And Bose’s name will not appear on football coaches’ headsets for NFL games during the upcoming season, valuable advertising placement the firm had the rights to since 2014.

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Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury looked on from the sideline during an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers.Lachlan Cunningham/Associated Press

The company was founded in 1964 by Amar Bose, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bose has long been run by its engineers — the firm tended to pursue interesting projects, even if they were expensive and the return on investment wasn’t clear. In that spirit, Amar Bose wanted his company to remain privately held so that it could focus on long-term research, without financial pressures from investors and shareholders.

In 2011, two years before he died, Amar Bose gave MIT majority ownership of the company in a deal that meant it could never go public. MIT receives annual cash dividends from Bose and cannot sell its shares. (According to a 2011 press release, which an MIT spokesperson confirmed remains accurate, MIT does not participate in operations or management of the company.)

Blade Kotelly, a senior lecturer at MIT who is familiar with the audio industry, said being a private company allowed Bose to take its time researching and developing products without the pressure of reporting to Wall Street on a quarterly basis. But that strategy proved to be challenging when “the world started changing quickly,” he said.

Kotelly said consumers now care less about things like noise-cancellation technology, and more about how products look, how easily they work, or how quickly they connect to their devices. He compared the situation with how car buyers used to want cars with more power, speed, or towing capacity, but now want user experience features such as 360-degree backup cameras and self-parking technology.

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“Bose doesn’t make products that large groups of consumers fall in love with anymore because people’s expectations have changed,” Kotelly said.

Some observers wonder whether the company will be able to sustain a business model that has historically prioritized research over profits. Bose generated $3.2 billion in sales during 2021, down from $4 billion two years prior, according to its reports.

Berthiaume declined to say whether Bose is profitable.

“To say morale is low is an understatement,” said one employee who resigned a few weeks ago.


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.