Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have decided to give up their co-CEO roles at Research in Motion. Replacing them - at Lazaridis' and Balsillie's own recommendation to their board - is one of the company's two COOs, 54 year old Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007. The news broke late on Sunday, and perhaps came as a surprise to many who believed that Lazaridis and Balsillie would not give up their roles. As much as the two share the blame for the last several years of stumbles at RIM, they deserve a great deal of credit at this juncture for stepping down and moving to inject fresh faces into the company's
key leadership roles.
RIM also announced that current board member Barbara Stymiest will become Chairman of the Board, a move that will finally separate the offices of Chairman and CEO into two separate entities. As everyone knows, Balsillie and Lazaridis have long held both co-CEO and co-Board Chairman roles - a scenario that most industry players believe has been central to RIM's inability to maintain a strong forward pace of innovation and a "timely" ability to deliver on innovation. Lazaridis will become Vice Chairman of the company he founded in 1984, and Balsillie will retain his role as a board member.
Balsillie and Lazaridis both claim that the move to a new CEO is a planned move, and that neither of them had been asked to move on from either their co-CEO or co-Chairman roles by the RIM board. Whether true or not is certainly not of concern - it simply doesn't matter.
Lazaridis and Balsillie have had plenty of success at RIM and the mobile world will rightfully remember them not for RIM's recent problems but for creating a true mobile enterprise experience and for helping to drive the mobile consumer world. Without RIM having pioneered and championed mobile email over the last decade, and without the introduction of the original BlackBerry Curve, today's exciting mobile world would likely have evolved along a much less exciting trajectory.
A Legitimate New Face
Thorsten Heins is a legitimate "fresh face" at RIM - he joined the company from Siemens AG, where he held the CTO role prior to the move to RIM. At RIM, Heins became one of two co-COOs, and had primary responsibility for sales, hardware and software. Heins hales from Germany, and with only four years at RIM doubly qualifies as a RIM outsider. This outsider persona will prove important - we believe that it is critical to bring an outsider perspective into play in order to be able to unite various collections of groups inside of RIM that have long been at odds with one another. The flip side of the coin is that Heins has also been around RIM long enough to know exactly where and what its problems are - there is no need for a long period of discovery and he should be able to move quickly.
Back in our December 19, 2011 article, "The gRIM Reaper Strikes Again
," we noted a number of specific issues RIM needed to resolve in order to pull off a successful reboot of the company, as follows:
- Business-side management needs to be entirely revamped
- The Chairman and CEO posts must become separate
- New management blood must drive new vision and create strong visionary appeal
- New management blood must drive new technology and finally get away from the entire current collection of endlessly revamped products
Going back farther, to our October 14, 2011 article that following RIM's outage problems - "RIM: Where is the Company We Knew and Loved?
" - we highlighted the following concerns (each of which has been driven by the management problems noted above):
- RIM has fallen at least two years behind the competition in terms of high-end product delivery (hardware, mobile apps) – on both the consumer and enterprise side
- The original collective bread-and-butter "enterprise team" at RIM has, as far as we can tell, been overwhelmed by the consumer side
- The consumer factions have no "Jobsian" visionaries and have dropped the ball enough times that it has finally negatively impacted top-line revenue in a significant way
These same issues ultimately drove the recent demise of RIM's stock price, and these same problems remain as Heins' key challenges.
These are the kinds of issues that only a legitimate new face can fix. RIM's problems aren't necessarily of the same magnitude that Apple faced in the late 1990s when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, but they are close. Although Jobs was an Apple founder, the company that he returned to was a stagnant and disjointed business that bore no resemblance to its former self.
Jobs returned as a true outsider and new face, and brought with him new management, enormous fresh thinking and enormous energy. Can Thorsten Heins do the same? To be successful he will have to. The good news here is that RIM has now done the right things to make this possible. As we head into BlackBerry World 2012 in early May, with Heins at the helm (and with a new Chairman on board) RIM is now very well-positioned to create a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm.
Two Critical Tasks
There are two things Heins must do over the next 4 months. If he doesn't pull these off anything that follows may not matter much.
First, Heins needs to quickly put in place his own senior management team. And he must charge this team with solving the company's enterprise-consumer conflicts, which includes the need to regain primacy in the enterprise without losing site of the larger consumer marketplace. Heins will need to be public about his management team's evolution, and he must instill a great deal of confidence that it will happen quickly.
Second, and far more important, Heins and his teams must pull together a stellar keynote - and there is only one thing that will make it stellar - an exciting collection of product demos that clearly show RIM moving well beyond its niche BlackBerry models, and forging totally new ground visually (from both hardware design and UI perspectives) and from a mobile apps perspective. Heins needs to show that RIM will change the game with regard to both Apple and the Android players.
Heins needs to quickly and effectively demonstrate that BlackBerry 10 can truly deliver on these fronts and BlackBerry World must create a lot of buzz around "new things." There must be magic made aroound BlackBerry 10.
It is asking a lot of Heins to pull such a thing off given the short time frames involved with everything that needs to happen. But RIM has genuinely and very positively surprised us with the announcement and moves to put new top level management quickly in place and we look forward with eager anticipation to being similarly surprised at BlackBerry World.
The mobile market needs a thriving RIM, and we hope that Hein's appointment is but a first move to ensuring that this once again becomes a reality.