I’ve just finished reading the New York Timesreport on the departure of the twin CEOs at BlackBerry HQ, RIM. If the situation were not so critical for RIM shareholders it would actually make hilarious reading, something akin to a black comedy.
For a start, how many companies do you know have two CEOs? The title itself, Chief Executive Officer, does not even accommodate anything plural. It has also come to light that there have been two COOs working concurrently in RIM as well. One of them, Thorsten Heins, will now step into the singular CEO role vacated by the ‘bobsy’ twins, Mike Laziridis and Jim Balsillie.
There is probably no need to highlight the plight of RIM that rose to stardom on the back of its BlackBerry mobile email platform. Its efforts to come out with new and exciting handsets in the face of mounting competition from all quarters failed dismally because the main selling point, in the eyes of consumers, was email access – something they could get (admittedly less securely) via any other smartphone.
It has never ceased to amaze me that anyone would need to answer emails 24×7, yet BlackBerry addicts made the case for bosses to fork out for handsets knowing they would be getting ‘blood’ in return. If recent legislation passed in Brazil - that companies will be forced to pay overtime to staff that answer emails in their personal time - is any indication, it could be the last nail in the RIM coffin.
As it turns out, RIM didn’t need any help to dig its own grave. The first bungle was persevering with two increasingly inept and clueless CEOs that failed to strategize early and insisted on following a ‘me too’ path in the tablet market well after the race had started. This was followed by failure to address the limitations of its existing operating system and the late delivery of the new version. It is now due out in end-2012, which is an eternity in an industry that can make or break heroes in days. Research In Motion could have been renamed RISM – ‘Research in Slow Motion.’
So what can be seen as humorous in this saddest of corporate tales? Well, apart from the distinction of having twin CEOs and twin COOs, the reins, and hopes for the future, are being handed over to a veteran of Siemens, another company that failed to survive the rapid transformation of telecom technology. First signs are not promising that Heins will be bringing any great foresight or hope to the market. He has already stated he would be staking the company’s revival on the very same new line of phones and a new operating system that his predecessors had embarked, and the very same one that has already run into a series of continuous delays.
To add a twist of sarcasm, Lazaridis will become vice chair of RIM’s board and chair of the board’s new Innovation Committee.
The New York Times also reports that Barbara Stymiest, a former chief operating officer of the Royal Bank of Canada, will become chairwoman of the company. Ms. Stymiest, has no background in electronics or consumer products. Let’s hope for Heins’ sake that she does not operate as her name suggests and ‘stymies’ his attempts at digging RIM out of the deep hole it has found itself in.
Reports of any takeover or acquisition of RIM by third parties was denied vehemently by the departing twins and there is no reason to doubt that. Anyway, who would want to buy RIM in this market? Sure, it has relationships with almost every mobile operator in the world and has over 70 million users worldwide, but acquiring the company does not guarantee that they remain loyal or be willing to buy what is offered to them in future.
Perhaps Heins should give Steve Elop at Nokia a call? After all, they seem to have a lot in common. On the other hand, maybe not, Elop has had most of his experience with burning platforms whilst Heins is having to dig his way out. If something doesn’t happen soon he may need to change the company’s name from RIM to RIP.