RIM's 2011 was ugly--a botched tablet introduction in the Blackberry Playbook, little to no hardware or software innovation (though they do have something simmering now), and a steady plummet in market share and stock value.
As I've said before, unless RIM does something fast, 2012 is going to be even uglier. And now RIM's Co-CEOs have stepped aside and a new CEO and independent chair have been appointed.
When I read this, I gasped out loud. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie previously had shown no interest--despite what seems to have been constant calls from investors and industry experts--in stepping away from the leadership roles of the company they co-founded. In their place, new CEO Thorsten Heins and independent board chair Barbara Stymiest are taking the helm.
Thorsten Heins joined RIM as a senior vice president of hardware engineering in December 2007, and later became COO of product and sales in August. He has over 27 years of consumer electronic and wireless network experience. The Wall Street Journal has characterized him as a "little-known company insider," so it should be interesting watching what he does with the company in these first few tentative months of a critical year for RIM.
Barbara Stymiest, RIM's new chair, joined the company in March 2007. She currently serves as a member of the Royal Bank of Canada's Group Executive. Her biography on the RIM site lists a large number of boards she sits on.
ComputerWorld's Johnny Evans thinks that this change, while needed, isn't going to help much. He's even more down on RIM that I've been, saying that RIM has totally collapsed under the assault from an extremely competitive handset market. He's got a point. According to the data he cites, RIM places dead last in customer handset satisfaction as well as consumer intent to purchase a specific smartphone in the next 90 days.
Heins' plans for righting the company aren't known at this time, and it isn't clear if he actually has a strategy. RIM's press release on the new appointments quotes Heins as saying that "he looks forward to continuing to work with Mr. Lazaridis, globally recognized as a technology pioneer." The release further provides what appears to be simply positive spin on the transition and what was unquestionably a challenging year.
Heins needs to take action. He must assess, plan, and mitigate risk. I don't necessarily want RIM to evaporate, but what its investors, customers, and the industry don't need is dead weight impeding innovation. I've outlined what I think is a reasonable plan for a better year from RIM. The only question I have now: is Heins bold enough to act in RIM's best interests and save its investor's money? Time will tell.
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