By Harry McCracken | Monday, January 23, 2012 at 12:10 am
After God-knows-how-many months of incessant wondering about how long beleaguered RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie could keep their jobs, the tech blogosophere can move onto other topics. Both gents are stepping down from their day-to-day leadership roles–they’ll remain directors–to make way for Thorsten Heins, formerly the company’s COO (he was one of two of them). Barbara Stymiest, currently a member of the board, will become its new chairman.
The company has posted a video in which Heins talks about his new gig:
If Heins isn’t prepared to speak eloquently about the road ahead quite yet, that doesn’t mean that he’s clueless or that he won’t do a good job. I also understand why he might be inclined to say nice things about Lazaridis, Balsillie, and the RIM team. I’ll even cut the company slack for the spin it’s putting on the executive change, which is that it’s happening because RIM is doing so well, not because it’s in trouble.
But if you’re rooting, as I am, for RIM to leave its doldrums behind and make some really great products, there’s nothing in the new CEO’s video to inspire any confidence. He does point out a few areas where the company can improve. (One of them is marketing, which seems to me to be a matter which won’t do a thing to turn around the company, unless it’s marketing for as-yet-unreleased fabulous phones.)
Mostly, though, he seems to say that the last four years have been hunky-dory, that RIM is moving in the right direction, and that it’s a company defined by its commitment to innovation. He also marvels at the upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system being put together in eighteen months–which is a strange thing to be marveling about given that the first BlackBerry 10 phones have been delayed until late this year, almost six years after the announcement of the iPhone.
As Heins says repeatedly in the video, he’s been at RIM for the past four years. Despite his cheery take, it’s been a bleak period for the company, mostly because it’s released so many half-baked products–the Storm, the Storm 2, the Torch, the PlayBook–and generally behaved like a company that no longer understands the industry it helped to create. He surely helped create this mess, and already, in this video, he sounds like he’s channeling Lazaridis and Balsillie’s blithe attitude towards the company’s existential challenges.
Of course, RIM has dug itself such a deep hole that even the most radical new CEO would have trouble formulating a strategy to set things right. BlackBerry 10 is a horribly overdue response to the iPhone, but Heins isn’t going to be able to switch game plans and get anything out more quickly. At this point, all he can do is to ensure that the first BlackBerry 10 handsets are as good as they can possibly be, and that the company knows what to do after they ship. And even that might not be enough to keep it relevant.
If you’re still holding out hope for a RIM turnaround, you need to concentrate your optimism on two specific areas:
* Maybe BlackBerry 10 and the phones that run it will be so spectacular that they’ll not only convince current RIM customers to stick around but also steal businesses and consumers away from the iPhone and Android;
* Perhaps Heins is a quiet revolutionary who’s going to impose meaningful change on RIM rather than continuing the Lazaridis/Balsillie approach–but he’s just not ready to talk about it yet.
What do you think the odds are that both of these possibilities are true?