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RIM’s founders step aside: Lazaridis and Balsillie are out at BlackBerry maker

The two BlackBerry cofounders will stay on RIM's board but Thorsten Heins takes over as president

After many months of declining sales and investor pressure, Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion (TSX: RIM) dropped a bombshell late Sunday with the news co-founders and co-chief executives Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis would resign their leadership positions, effective immediately.

The two co-founders have led the embattled company for some 20 years, and while they’ll retain their seats on the board of directors they’ll hand the executive leadership over to Thorsten Heins, a little-known RIM insider who has been appointed by the board of directors as RIM’s new president and CEO. Heins joined RIM from Siemens in 2007, and was named RIM’s COO for product and sales last summer.

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In a statement, Lazaridis said it was time to pass the baton on to new leadership.

“With BlackBerry 7 now out, PlayBook 2.0 shipping in February and BlackBerry 10 expected to ship later this year, the company is entering a new phase, and we felt it was time for a new leader to take it through that phase and beyond,” said Lazaridis. “(Heins) has demonstrated throughout his tenure at RIM that he has the right mix of leadership, relevant industry experience and skills to take the company forward. We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens.”

Heins re-stated RIMs commitment to QNX as the future of the BlackBerry platform, despite despite recent rumours of further delays brining QNX handsets to market. He also stressed RIMs balance sheet, which he said included $1.5 billion in cash at the end of the last quarter and negligible debt.

“RIM earned its reputation by focusing relentlessly on the customer and delivering unique mobile communications solutions. We intend to build on this heritage to expand BlackBerry’s leadership position,” said Heins. “As with any company that has grown as fast as we have, there have been inevitable growing pains. We have learned from those challenges and, I believe, we have and will become a stronger company as a result.

Heins added the company is currently recruiting a new Chief Marketing Officer, which would address the concerns of many that RIM has failed to position and market its products competitively, particularly compared to fierce rivals Apple with its popular iPhones, and handsets running Google Android.

To demonstrate his confidence in RIM’s future, Lazaridis said he would be purchase an additional $50 million RIM shares on the open market.

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

From RIM: Meet Thorsten Heins