RIM for relegation?

Like a Barclays Premier League football club, RIM have sacked the manager in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation. In fact they sacked two Chief Executives (so called co-CEOs – which sounds like your problem right there). They both remain on the board however.

I am of the opinion that the board is responsible for approving the strategy of the business (amongst a few other things) and that the executives are responsible for executing the strategy and delivering the value. So what this says is that RIM are in trouble, the strategy is fine but the execs didn’t execute it properly, so we’re replacing them. Maybe. But would you then let them be responsible for the strategy? One could deduce from this that actually the strategy team got it wrong and the team needs bolstering by operating management experience.

Founder Mike Lazaridis said “There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership.” Indeed – but the founders most often recognise this moment after the ship has hit the iceberg, not before.

The current COO, Thirsten Heins, becomes CEO from Monday (today) and said “As with any company that has grown as fast as we have, there have been inevitable growing pains”. To which he added “We have learned from those challenges and, I believe, we have and will become a stronger company as a result.”

So that means getting back to providing the essential business tool (the Blackberry) and giving up on competing with Apple by making consumer devices such as the ill-fated Playbook? The problem is that BlackBerry lost its way, didn’t realise it, started losing customers (and more importantly was losing potential customers) and only now is it reacting.

I was a BlackBerry user (and fanatic) for 8 years and 6 BBs. In one year they managed to erase my apps and personalisation with a poorly executed OS upgrade, and deny me service on two separate occasions. My contract came up for renewal in November, I could switch to iPhone 4S at no charge and didn’t hesitate. Just like that, I’m gone, never to return. And the thing is, I know a few more people who went through the same thing – and they know a few more as well.

RIM’s shares have lost 75% of their value in the last year, if you were a shareholder you might well want action. Moving the founders upstairs is probably the only thing they could do, but like the football clubs, their chance of avoiding relegation will depend on what their new manager achieves in the first 90 days. If he can articulate a focussed strategy, based on what they have to hand (i.e. not based on future products yet to see the light of day) there maybe a glimmer of hope. I was of the opinion last November that RIM would be acquired this year, and I still feel that is likely. They have lost so much ground to competitors, lost shareholder confidence and are in the doldrums with the customers such that saving the “club” seems unlikely to me – that commercial advantage they have lost will be extremely hard to regain on their own.

I do not wish RIM ill however. They created a new class of device, made access to email for corporate users simple and ubiquitous and I really depended on my many BlackBerries over the years (and they delivered more often than they didn’t). The technical innovation seems to have deserted them now – they appear to be reacting to Apple’s moves which is never a good sign for their long term survival. Most of all I would not wish to see their employees suffer for the vanity projects of the executive team.



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