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    Thorsten Heins’ reign as the chief executive of Research In Motion Ltd. didn’t exactly begin with a ringing vote of confidence.

    When news broke one Sunday evening last January that RIM’s chief executive tandem of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie would be stepping down and that Mr. Heins, then the company’s little known chief operating officer, would be assuming the top post with the BlackBerry maker, it marked the end of an era for an iconic Canadian company.

    I think the best adjective to describe Thorsten is solid, rock solid,

    The next day, shares of RIM rose briefly in pre-market trading on news of the CEO shakeup. However, when analysts, the media and investors actually met Mr. Heins, hearing his vision for the company via interviews and conference calls, the stock promptly dropped 9%.

    Most feared Mr. Heins’ plan for the future of the company seemed too closely aligned with that of Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis and that he was a successor endorsed and possibly even hand-picked by an unpopular outgoing CEO team.

    After a disastrous 2011 that saw shares of RIM plummet 75% amid product delays, crippling service outages and the disappointing launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet — all while rivals Apple Inc. and Google Inc. enjoyed record growth in the smartphone market — many observers worried Mr. Heins’ appointment would amount to too little, too late.

    Now, one year after the dramatic shakeup atop RIM, Mr. Heins stands on the brink of the most important new product roll out in this company’s history and the unknown future of Canada’s most important technology company hangs in the balance.

    Next week on Jan. 30, RIM will hold a series of events to officially unveil BlackBerry 10, the new software platform that will power the next generation of RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones. RIM will also officially introduce a pair of new BlackBerry handsets, which are expected to go on sale in the coming weeks.

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    There are those in the technology industry who believe this is nothing short of a make or break moment for RIM, a company that once dominated the smartphone world but which has been pushed to the brink of obscurity in North America by the wild popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and the rise of devices powered by Google Inc.’s Android software.

    Although Mr. Heins has earned praise from Wall Street and the technology world for steering RIM through troubled waters, only the rollout and eventual success or failure of BlackBerry 10 will define his tenure at RIM.

    “I think the best adjective to describe Thorsten is solid, rock solid,” said Peter Misek, a financial analyst with Jefferies & Co.

    “I would not try to suggest that he’s charismatic like a Steve Jobs. But I would say he embodies a lot of the characteristics of a seasoned tech executive from Germany, which is rock solid, focused on engineering.”

    In the eyes of many analysts, Mr. Heins has helped stabilize RIM by slashing costs — including roughly 5,000 layoffs last summer — streamlining manufacturing and improving the company’s cash position, which went from US$1.5-billion at the end of November 2011, compared to roughly US$2.9-billion today.

    “There’s only a handful of ways a CEO can help a damaged company, and Thorsten has done them all, so far,” said John Pliniussen, an associate professor of innovation and Internet marketing at the Queen’s University School of Business in Kingston, Ont.

    When Mr. Heins took over in January, RIM had stated it planned to launch BlackBerry 10 in the second half of 2012. However, after some consideration, Mr. Heins announced in June that the launch of BlackBerry 10 would be pushed back to Jan. 30, 2013.

    “RIM’s development teams are relentlessly focused on ensuring the quality and reliability of the platform and I will not compromise the product by delivering it before it is ready,” Mr. Heins said in a statement at the time.

    Still, many of RIM’s financial metrics under Mr. Heins have continued their downward trajectory which began under the previous administration, as consumer demand for RIM’s aging line of BlackBerrys has evapourated.

    In the 12 months since Mr. Heins took over as CEO, RIM’s revenue has fallen roughly 47% to US$2.7-billion in the most recent quarter, compared to US$5.2-billion in the same quarter a year ago.

    While RIM has grown its overall subscriber base from 75 million users to 79 million users in the past year, but it’s a number which declined for the first time ever in the most recent quarter. RIM has seen overall BlackBerry sales fall in each of the last four quarters, from 14.1 million BlackBerrys in the final quarter of the Balsillie and Lazaridis era, to 6.9 million devices in the most recent quarter.

    Indeed, over the past four quarters, RIM has shipped approximately 33 million BlackBerrys. Apple meanwhile, sold more than 125 million iPhones in its most recent fiscal year while Android’s top backer, Samsung Electronics Ltd., has shipped more than 40 million of its Galaxy S3 smartphones since last May.

    “RIM continued to sell devices and get subscribers in spite of not having a new product,” Mr. Misek said. “I think that was reasonably impressive. Yes, they focused on emerging markets and all kinds of other things, but I thought the simple ‘blocking and tackling’ has improved.”

    The true evaluation for Mr. Heins will begin On Jan. 30, 2013, when the world gets its first good look at BlackBerry 10 and the first two next generation BlackBerry devices. If RIM is to re-establish itself as a serious player in the smartphone market, observers say it will need to execute a successful launch of BlackBerry 10 and recapture lost momentum in key markets.

    “RIM has done the best it can given the fact that it has had no new products in market for more than a year,” said Kevin Restivo, an analyst with International Data Corp.

    “The problem with the performance more than anything is the drop in market share and sales in North America. As high growth as many of RIM’s international markets are, the United States, and by extension North America, is still very much a tastemaker market. So if you want to make a splash in the world, you need to have a strong presence in the United States.”
    RIM: BB10 rollout to be defining test for CEO Thorsten Heins | FP Tech Desk | Financial Post
    howarmat likes this.
    01-22-13 08:43 AM

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