The news broke last night, when most people were watching the NFL Championship, games that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Research in Motion, (TSX: RIM)had finally stepped down for little known executive Thorsten Heins.
Heins is a 54-year-old German national who joined RIM in 2007 from Siemens. This move is what the market, shareholders, CrackBerry fans, many Canadians, and analysts were screaming for. But why did it take so long?
This reminded me of the story of Emperor Nero playing the lyre (a type of violin) as Rome burned. If Lazaridis and Balsillie were on the outs, as many expected, and they were looking internally to Heins or someone else, then it should not have taken so long. RIM is still lacking a new market strategy for its products and that should have been in place ages ago for the staff and channel partners to execute.
Instead RIM was left in a perpetual state of limbo, which allowed competitors to weaken them unnecessarily.
The company also missed an opportunity to showcase its new chief executive at CES. From all reports, RIM had a very good CES; can you imagine how much better it would have been if Heins was there touting the new strategy, shaking hands, making new friends, talking RIM up to anyone who would listen? The company would have had great momentum. Instead, they’re at stage one of the transition.
Word on the street is that Heins is boring and that he looks too young to be in charge. But from what I’ve heard he does have perspective, in my opinion.
He said that RIM has a strong balance sheet. And it does. Revenue was up in the last quarter by 24 per cent. That’s very good performance. The BlackBerry subscriber base is up in the past year by 34 per cent and that’s a great stat too. But let’s not forget that revenues are down from the previous year and that net profit from the previous year was really down; 71 per cent. Heins has a lot of work ahead of him.
Heins also commented on a new focus on the customer. I know that sounds really simple, but believe me it gets lost on a lot of CEO’s desks because of all the market pressures, dealing with shareholders, competitors and the press/analyst communities.
That should be Heins’ main priority: to focus customers and give them fantastic products and equally fantastic experiences. He can build from there.
In a short video posted by RIM, Heins said he believes he can make RIM one of the top three players in wireless in next few years, that RIM needs to get better at execution, improve internal go-to-market processes, wants to bring in strong marketing expertise to get closer to the consumer, and to keep innovating for the enterprise to maintain leadership position.
All these goals are reachable and reasonable, and point to RIM’s new leader as a pragmatic man who may be thinking that instead of turning around this company overnight, it may take many, many nights.
Another think I liked from Heins is that he stated that BlackBerry is not a “me-too” product. It’s different and therefore special and that needs to be communicated on a daily basis to people.
And I think this is something he has to do. Heins has to go out into the public, big customers, shareholders, market analysts and be visible. If Heins is back room, closed door type of leader than RIM will have missed another opportunity to change its fortunes.