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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Who Is RIM's New CEO?

And can he save the BlackBerry brand?

  • January 25, 2012

The leadership is changing at Research in Motion Ltd., the Canadian company behind the iconic but troubled BlackBerry. Co-CEOs (and cofounders) Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis announced that they were stepping down on Sunday, after 20 years at the top, to make way for a new chief, Thorsten Heins, formerly the company’s COO. And boy does Heins have his work cut out for him. RIM’s grip on the smartphone market has been eroding—it lost 75 percent of its value over the last year—with the meteoric ascent of iOS and Android. (A recent international service outage didn’t help matters.)

Heins, though, who joined the company back in 2007, sounds confident: “If we continue doing well what we’re doing,” he says in this YouTube video, “I see no problems with us being in the top three players worldwide in the next years in wireless.”

“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,” Lazaridis said in a press release announcing the move. “Jim, the Board, and I all agreed that leader should be Thorsten Heins.” Heins was simultaneously appointed to RIM’s board.

Analysts aren’t so excited. “He’s cut from the same cloth as the co-CEOs,” one of them, Mike Abramsky of RBC Capital Markets, told Bloomberg. Appointing from within the ranks of the company showed a lack of vision, according to another analyst, Charter Equity Research’s Edward Snyder, who wrote that only appointing from outside the company would be likely to turn RIM around. Snyder also noted that fewer than half of turnaround attempts—three out of seven—by phone makers have actually been pulled off successfully in the last 15 years.

Do we have any indication of where Heins will be taking the company yet? According to the Globe and Mail, which nabbed an interview with the new chief, one of the first moves will be to hire a chief marketing officer to “help repair the BlackBerry’s dented brand.” Heins also indicated a willingness to consider licensing the BlackBerry 10 OS to other handset manufacturers.

Heins himself is something of a cipher, certainly not as well known a quantity as Apple’s COO-turned-CEO, Tim Cook. The Guardian did some digging and turned up few more details than what you might expect to find from an open Facebook profile: that Heins is 54 years old and from Munich; that he’s 6’6” tall; and that he roots for the Miami Heat, and rides a BMW motorcycle. The Guardian doesn’t say which Heins uses, an iPhone or an Android.

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