RIM Calls Up New CEO

Research In Motion (RIM) went to its bullpen in search of a new leader Sunday to replace founders and co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. Thorsten Heins will step in as both chief executive officer and president of the troubled company. RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) also reshuffled its board.

Until the appointment, Heins, 54, was one of the company's two chief operating officers. He first came to RIM in 2007 as senior vice president for the Handheld Business Unit. He was appointed chief operating officer for Product and Sales in August 2011. He has 27 years of experience in wireless networks and consumer electronics devices, including a stint as chief technology officer and board member of Siemens Technology Group.

Despite RIM's woes — the company has steadily been losing market share to Apple's iOS devices and Android devices and saw its share price fall 77 percent in 2011 — Heins indicated that he would stay the course set by the two former co-CEOs and would work closely with Lazaridis going forward.

"Mike created a whole new way of communicating and I look forward to continuing our close collaboration," Heins said.

He added, "Mike and Jim took a bold step 18 months ago when RIM purchased QNX to shepherd the transformation of the BlackBerry platform for the next decade. We are more confident than ever that was the right path. It is Mike and Jim's continued unwillingness to sacrifice long-term value for short-term gain which has made RIM the great company that it is today. I share the philosophy and am very excited about the company's future."

Lazaridis, who until Sunday was also chairman, has moved into the vice chair position of RIM's board and has taken charge of the company's new Innovation Committee as chairman.

"There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership," Lazaridis said. "Jim and I went to the board and told them that we thought that time was now. With BlackBerry 7 now out, PlayBook 2.0 shipping in February and BlackBerry 10 expected to ship later this year, the company is entering a new phase, and we felt it was time for a new leader to take it through that phase and beyond. Jim, the board and I all agreed that leader should be Thorsten Heins."

Balsillie, who will remain a member of RIM's board, added, "I agree this is the right time to pass the baton to new leadership, and I have complete confidence in Thorsten, the management team and the company. I remain a significant shareholder and a director, and, of course, they will have my full support."

While Heins, Lazaridis and Balsillie all expressed confidence in RIM's future, analysts are more cautious, pointing to the way that Apple and devices running Google's Android operating system have devoured RIM's once dominant position in the enterprise smartphone market. Many have speculated that RIM is positioning itself as an acquisition target for Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook or, most recently, Samsung. Late last week, speculation that Samsung would make a bid for RIM led the company's stock price to rally 8 percent.

"While we believe there is some intrinsic value in RIMM as an acquisition target with its 75 million subscribers, patent portfolio, BlackBerry OS, and push network, we are unsure if a price of over $10 billion makes sense," Shaw Wu, an analyst with Sterne Agree, wrote in a research note last week. "Currently, the company has a market capitalization of $9.2 billion, meaning upside could be limited. We believe logical buyers are AMZN, MSFT, Samsung and possibly Facebook."

Wu pointed to RIM's patent portfolio and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) as the company's most valuable assets while noting the value of the company's push network and BlackBerry OS is more questionable given the competitive issues they've experienced in the marketplace.

There have been other changes to RIM's board as well. Barbara Stymiest, formerly a member of the Royal Bank of Canada's Group Executive and a member of RIM's board since 2007, has been named independent board chair. Prem Watsa, chief executive officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings, was also named to the board, expanding it to 11 members.

Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals.



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