After a decade of trying to resuscitate BlackBerry Ltd., John Chen is leaving the company.
In a statement issued this afternoon, the company announced the executive chair and CEO will retire effective Nov. 4.
Richard (Dick) Lynch will succeed Chen as board chair and will also serve as interim chief executive while BlackBerry completes its search for a permanent CEO.
Lynch joined the BlackBerry board in 2013 and currently serves as a member of its compensation, nomination and governance committee. He previously served as executive vice-president and chief technology officer of Verizon Communications and Verizon Wireless. He is a director of Cohere Technologies and iconectiv and has served as chair of Ribbon Communications and as a director of Ruckus Wireless.
The departure of Chen aligns with the terms of his contract, the BlackBerry statement says. It adds that it also follows the conclusion of the board’s Project Imperium evaluation, which will see BlackBerry spinning off its IoT division from the cybersecurity unit.
“The BlackBerry board of directors would like to express its gratitude to John for his decade of strong leadership,’ said Prem Watsa, lead director of the BlackBerry board, in the statement. “His achievement of saving BlackBerry and repositioning it as a software company with leading cybersecurity and IoT technologies has been remarkable.”
“It has been an honour to lead and transform this iconic company over the past decade,” Chen said in the statement. “I’m proud to have been able to establish BlackBerry’s vision of a trusted, software-defined world and to position the company to unlock value through the separation of our core business units into two separate operating companies.
“I want to thank everyone across the BlackBerry community – the board, employees, customers, partners, and more – for your support during my tenure and wish the company every success in the future.”
When Chen spoke to financial analysts on Oct. 17, shortly after the board decided to split the Waterloo, Ont. company into two parts next year, he said he didn’t know what his future with BlackBerry would be. He didn’t want to tie his future to the board’s decision, he said. Now that the decision had been made, it was time to talk to it about his future.
Chen arrived from Sybase in November, 2013 to a company that was reeling after the business and consumer world abandoned BlackBerry devices for Apple’s iPhones and lower-cost Android smartphones. By the time of Chen’s arrival, there had been almost three years of layoffs as BlackBerry restructured. The total workforce had shrunk by 60 per cent.
His initial strategy was to get out of non-core areas like handset design and consumer apps and focus on its core enterprise buyers for the time being. Over time, that strategy evolved to dropping handsets and tablets altogether and focusing on enterprise security (mobile device management and, with the purchase of Cylance, endpoint security) and securing the internet of things through its QNX operating system, which is found in many vehicles today.
But share prices and revenue never recovered from the glory pre-iPhone days.