A View from David Zax
RIM. Oh, RIM.
Has Waterloo met its Waterloo?
These aren’t the easiest times for Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ontario-based makers of the BlackBerry. Its head of Australian and New Zealand operations stepped down today after mere months on the job, “to pursue other interests” (snorkeling? bric-a-brac?). An annual meeting with investors yesterday was predictably tense, given that the company has lost 95% of its value in all of four years. And that great white hope, the new line of BlackBerry phones? That’s getting delayed till next year, RIM recently announced.
Well, maybe if RIM’s business is floundering, at least its image is holding up? Far from it. The company thought it would foster some good will among its loyal fan base on Twitter by encouraging users to fill in the gap: “BlackBerry helps me ________,” the company tweeted. I am not a marketing professional, and yet I absolutely could have predicted the array of responses the tweet garnered. BlackBerry, wrote its “fans,” helps people 1) realize they want iPhones, 2) learn to be patient, and 3) keep papers flying from their desks.
“RIM can’t catch a break,” writes Salvador Rodriguez for the LA Times. But another way to put this is that RIM is simply failing. The more you read about RIM, the more it sounds like a culture of complacency has reigned far too long in its board rooms. As one vocal investor reportedly put it yesterday: “What this board is missing is more technologically savvy expertise, marketing expertise and a little more transaction expertise… This is too cozy and clubby a board.”
Some people are going so far as to say that the gap between RIM’s rhetoric and reality–CEO Thorsten Heins’s proclamations about the company have been positively exuberant–have bordered on a kind of deliberate misleading of its investors. “They’re going to get sued and they should get sued because I think a closer look at the record is likely to unearth knowing and willful misrepresentation,” one venture capitalist and former Apple employee told the New York Times.
With delay after delay and continual shrinking of its operations, it’s difficult to see how RIM still has a serious horse in the mobile computing race. Meanwhile some of its customers are already preparing for a BlackBerry-less future, reports Bloomberg. Many are looking at contingency plans. Still, as one analyst told Bloomberg, “RIM’s situation is dire, but even in a worst-case scenario, RIM’s servers aren’t likely to get turned off anytime soon.”
Who is most likely to suffer if RIM does die? Its hometown of Waterloo. “Thousands of Waterloo-area residents have already been served up RIM pink slips,” reports CNNMoney. Local universities in Waternoo and nearby Kitchener have been living off the largesse of the once-grand RIM, which once funneled millions of donations their way. What will happen to a company town without its company?