RIM's chief execs feel the thorny side of BlackBerry

The BlackBerry maker's two CEOs have bowed to shareholder pressure. But will it be enough to win the battle of the smartphones?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 30 May 2012
Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerry, has announced that its two chief executives - Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie - have stepped down. The pair, who also shared the chairman role, have been at the head of the company for the past 20-odd years, but following a series of 'incidents', they've bowed to pressure from investors and stepped aside. Taking their place in the CEO role will be the company's former COO for product and sales Thorsten Heins, while former Toronto stock exchange exec Barbara Stymiest will become the new chairman. But will it be enough to start the fightback against Apple?

It's no secret that shareholders have been pushing for something to change at the top of the company over the past few months. Not only did RIM issue a series of profit warnings last year (in September, for example, second-quarter profits dropped to $414m, from just over $1bn the year before), but it's also been forced to delay the launch of its new range of smartphones and tablets until the second half of this year. Then there's the massive network outage which occured in October, when no users outside of North America could access their emails or instant messages for days - which led to a 75% drop in share prices. Ouch.

Despite all that, though, this has actually come as something of a surprise: although investors had been heavily pushing for Lazaridis and Balsillie (Balsaridis?) to step aside, no-one had expected them to give up both the chairman and CEO roles. And, weirdly, they both insist that it was all their own decision, and nothing to do with the angry mob of investors waving flaming torches outside their window. 'There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognise the need to pass the baton to new leadership,' said Lazaridis. Quite.

But will it be enough for RIM to gain back that vital market share it's lost to Apple and its iPhone over the past few years? Heins has already pledged to start by winning back business and corporate customers - once BlackBerry's core market - many of whom have slipped over to the dark side in recent times. But there are still questions over Lazaridis and Balsillie's roles in the company: the pair, who each own more than 5% of the company, will both remain on the board, while Lazaridis will move into the newly-created role of vice chairman. He also said he's going to fork out another $50m (£32m) on increasing his stake. So their influences could well be as strong as they've ever been. In which case, expect more criticism from shareholders.

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