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6/17/2011
10:57 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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RIM Co-CEOs Say Outsiders Just Don't Get It

Despite grim quarterly results, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie maintained that Research In Motion is approaching the final phase of a significant transition and defended their management structure.

If there's anything to be said about Research In Motion's co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, it's that they are amazingly positive and always believe that the cup is half full--even if there's really nothing in the cup at all.

The two CEOs got on the phone late Thursday to talk to the press and investors about its recently quarterly report (which, by the way, was a bit of a stinker). After going through the numbers, they began to talk about themselves, their leadership, and what's really going on up in Waterloo.

"Mike and I would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed surrounding the executive management structure at RIM and, specifically, the joint nature of our leadership," said Balsillie. "Mike and I have been partners in this business for almost 20 years, and during that time RIM has grown to $20 billion in annual revenue. We are currently approaching the tail end of a significant transition in our business, that, frankly, few companies would have survived. But we have. And I believe, and I think Mike would agree, that neither of us could have taken RIM this far alone."

In other words, Balsillie believes that the Dynamic Duo approach to leadership has been a benefit to RIM, not a hindrance. Further, Balsillie said the company is at the end of its transitional period--even though it has delayed key products and predicted a 20% revenue drop for the year.

Then Lazaridis stepped in.

"I agree with Jim's comments, and I absolutely believe that the complementary skill sets and good working relationship between Jim and I led to the success of RIM over the past two decades," he said.

True, the two men built the company from the ground up to a hugely successful business--back in 2008. Since then, it has been losing ground. Do Balsillie and Lazaridis take responsibility for RIM's decline? Hell no!

"I also believe that strong, consistent leadership is critical to successfully leveraging the substantial investments we've been making in BlackBerry 7, QNX, and all the products that are about to launch in fiscal 2012," Lazaridis continued. "Our commitment to RIM is stronger than ever, and we know what we have to do jointly to accomplish and take RIM to the next stage of growth and success. Jim and I recognize each other's strengths, and regularly discuss and work together to determine the best way to execute on the incredible market opportunity ahead of us."

What Lazaridis is not-so-subtly saying is that he and Balsillie ain't going nowhere. They're in it for the long haul, and only a fistfight is going to get them out of the leadership chairs.

Given RIM's recent financial performance, its slipping market share, and its predictions for a rough year ahead, it is hard to believe Balsillie's and Lazaridis' rhetoric. We've heard it in quarters past, and none of the feel-good vibes given off by this pair of CEOs has translated into a positive outcome for its investors.

But Lazaridis wasn't done, oh no.

"I truly believe we are approaching the final phase of this transition," he said. "While I can't promise that there won't be bumps in the road ahead, I can assure you that Jim and I have never been more committed to the business, and that our interests remain closely aligned with those of our shareholders."

The company has already given us a preview of those upcoming bumps. First, it has delayed the launch of its next two BlackBerry devices to the very end of August. Worse, it has delayed the 4G versions of its PlayBook tablet until "the fall." The 4G variants of the PlayBook were due to launch this summer. RIM pointed out that carrier testing has been particularly brutal. RIM is also planning some layoffs, though it didn't say how many employees would be let go.

Separately, a carrier in the U.K. called O2 has decided that it won't sell the PlayBook at all. It cited "user experience issues" as the reason, and reversed its original intent to sell the BlackBerry tablet.

Worse, Apple will likely get its revamped iOS 5 system and a new iPhone to market right as the new BlackBerrys launch.

So, yeah, plenty of speed bumps ahead for RIM. Can it steer clear of them, or will it land in a pothole?

"Jim and I have the perfect balance to make the hard decisions," said Lazaridis. "This is fun. We're changing the world."

Uh huh, keep telling yourselves that, Lazaridis and Balsillie.

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