Is management shake-up too late for RIM?

Disastrous co-CEOs step aside, but irreversible damage has been done

Many Research in Motion shareholders have been clamoring for the heads of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Ballsillie for more than a year as the BlackBerry maker continues to fall behind in the smartphone market.

On Sunday they got their wish as Lazaridis and Balsillie abruptly resigned and turned over the reins to a relatively obscure insider.

But now that the two men largely blamed for the strategic missteps, product delays and deteriorating market share that have triggered a collapse of RIM's share price are gone, can the Canadian device maker reverse its potentially deadly decline?

The early indication is that Wall Street is unconvinced. Shares of RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) opened Monday down 1.28 cents, or 7.5%, to 15.72. (Through Friday, RIM's stock was down more than 75% from last February, when it topped $70 a share.)

The street's cynicism is justified. While Lazaridis and Balsillie had to go, it should have happened at least a year ago, when it was clear that the BlackBerry was bleeding market share to Google's Android OS and that Apple's iPhone and iPad tablet were successfully assaulting RIM's enterprise stronghold.

Instead, the pair spent the past year deflecting criticism, making excuses and uttering delusional proclamations of RIM's future awesomeness. Oddly enough, none of those things helped RIM reverse its crumbling fortunes.

Now the former Crackberry dealer must go forward with chief operating officer Thorsten Heins as the new CEO. Given that Lazaridis and Balsillie 1) will remain as directors (with the former serving as vice chairman of the board), and 2) are among RIM's largest shareholders, it's hard to see how Heins will be allowed to operate with a free hand.

Indeed, as MarketWatch reported, "interviews the executives gave on Sunday seem to indicate that the company does not plan any change in its current strategy."

So an insider is picked by the architects of RIM's demise to continue the company's clearly unsuccessful strategy, under their watchful eyes as directors and major shareholders. The insider also inherits the arguably flawed corporate culture created by his predecessors, as well as the inferior products (PlayBook) and delayed QNX mobile OS.

Really, what's going to change? Oh, that's right: Heins says RIM might consider licensing the BlackBerry 10 OS -- you know, the OS scheduled to be launched almost a year from now -- to other manufacturers. That's called the "salvage whatever you can" strategy. Maybe Heins also should have employees begin stripping copper plumbing from RIM headquarters.

Ludicrous postscript: Lazaridis claimed on Sunday that he plans to buy $50 million more in RIM shares. Sure he will.

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