John Chen isn’t saying if he will stay with BlackBerry now that the board has decided to split the Waterloo, Ont. company into two parts next year.
Asked Tuesday at a briefing for investors and financial analysts on his future, the company’s executive chair and CEO replied, “The true answer is, I don’t know.
“And the reason I don’t know is it was very important for me not to touch that point before the board made a decision” to divide BlackBerry’s cybersecurity and IoT divisions.
“Now that the board made a decision, it’s now time for me and the board to sit together to say what value that I had — or that I ever had any value — what value I have going forward.” A decision “will be soon.”
“The good news is neither I or the board have any desire to rush to anything. I’m not running out, nor does the board want me to go. So it’s a conversation. We’ll probably have the result soon.”
Perhaps one clue: Earlier in the day, at the annual BlackBerry Summit conference for IT professionals, Chen recalled that 10 years ago he came to save the then-struggling Canadian mobile device manufacturer. “It’s been a decade,” he said, adding in an aside, “seemed very long, sometimes.”
That’s because BlackBerry’s stock slid during those years and the company never returned to the powerhouse it was before Apple’s iPhone emerged in the summer of 2007.
Three years after Chen arrived, BlackBerry decided to get out of the smartphone and tablet business and focus on endpoint security management (BlackBerry UEM), enterprise security (Cylance), the AtHoc emergency event management solution, and its QNX operating system for IoT devices.
However, sales on the cybersecurity side have suffered, while QNX is being adopted by car manufacturers for their entertainment systems and by industrial firms.
The company lost US$47 million in the second quarter of its 2024 fiscal year, with cybersecurity product revenue down and IoT product revenue up.
Earlier this month, BlackBerry announced plans to hive off part of the IoT division into a separate publicly-traded company. A public offering may be released next June.
Chen repeated what he has said for several years: Convergence between cybersecurity and IoT products that talk to each other is inevitable. The board decided unanimously to not change that strategy of convergence, he said, but to enhance the value of the company with the split. That way BlackBerry will be free to grow the cybersecurity side into profitability.
Few companies have both cybersecurity and a stake, through QNX, in the embedded IoT market, he maintained. BlackBerry IoT partners include Siemens, Amazon and GE, Chen noted. “The thing that’s bad for us is we haven’t been able to grow” the cybersecurity business.
“We have a plan to greatly reduce the loss of cyber unit,” including possibly selling some of the company’s intellectual property.
“Maybe the world of cybersecurity has short-charged us a little bit,” he said after listing BlackBerry’s range of products, “but at the end of the day we have to make money, grow the company.”
Asked how the convergence strategy survives if there are two companies, Chen replied that “we are hoping that the two operating units will have an alignment in terms of the product roadmap as well as the strategy.” There will be two boards and management teams, he added, so that may not happen. In fact, he admitted he may be naive.
“But,” he repeated, “I believe that convergence is unavoidable. Therefore whether IoT [division] is standalone or otherwise, they will have to work on some form of cyber security products.”
BlackBerry could put Cylance on QNX or Linux or other operating systems, Chen added.
More importantly, he said, both operating units need to be financially viable and stand alone.