Research in Motion (NSDQ: RIMM) has finally decided to get serious about its predicament: co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis are stepping aside after a disastrous year in which the company squandered its once-dominant position in the smartphone market.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the two CEOs would step down Monday morning and be replaced by Thorston Heins, who has been RIM’s chief operating officer. They will both stay on RIM’s board, but will no longer have executive roles at the company founded by Lazaridis and overseen by the duo for nearly two decades.
The company confirmed the move in a press release following the published report, and Balsillie and Lazardis granted interviews to the WSJ in conjunction with release of the report, interestingly timed for the middle of the San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants championship game in San Francisco. In the report, they said they were not pushed from their roles but it’s hard to take that at face value, given that RIM was under serious pressure from investors to release a plan for management changes by the end of January following a deal cut just before its annual meeting last July.
Lazaridis will become vice chair of RIM’s board and will chair something called the Innovation Committee. RIM said he will provide “strategic counsel” to Heins and will apparently be much more active than Balsillie, who will remain on the board but with no new public role. Barbara Stymiest, a current RIM board member, will become Board Chair.
The former CEOs, as well as Heins, also spoke to their hometown paper, the Globe and Mail, in advance of actually announcing the move. Heims has been chief operating officer of product engineering for RIM following a reorganization last year in which RIM laid off employees and attempted to streamline its operation. But that wasn’t enough to prevent the company from making several more product and strategic mistakes during the latter half of 2012.
RIM is in deep trouble for taking far too long to react to the launch of the iPhone, a seminal moment in the modern mobile computing industry that was initially dismissed by RIM’s management has having been faked by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). Changing consumer tastes for smartphones led to a precipitous drop in RIM’s U.S. market share in 2010 and throughout 2011, and the company has fumbled several attempts to catch up. New BlackBerry 7 handsets were delayed in 2011 after RIM miscalculated the processing power that would be required, and a similar mistake led to the delay of its first QNX-based smartphones, which were supposed to appear in early 2012 but now aren’t expected until the end of the year.
Heins promised the Globe and Mail that “what you will see with me is rigour and flawless execution.” That’s something RIM could surely use following all the product delays, but the company also needs to articulate a clearer vision for how it intends to transition between the staid BlackBerry OS and the newer QNX operating system, which RIM has renamed BlackBerry 10 yet struggled to get anyone to notice the software following the failed launch of its Playbook tablet.