x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

BlackBerry's top two hang up on RIM

Top executives at RIM resign, despite healthy sales of its BlackBerry handsets in the Middle East

Jim Balsillie, right, and Mike Lazaridis resigned as co-chief executives of RIM. AP Photo
Jim Balsillie, right, and Mike Lazaridis resigned as co-chief executives of RIM. AP Photo

Research In Motion's two top executives have stepped down, amid growing pressure from investors over the company's struggling BlackBerry brand.

Strong sales growth in the Middle East was not enough to save Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, who resigned as co-chief executives of RIM, which makes BlackBerry smartphones.

Thorsten Heins, who joined the company in December 2007, took over as chief executive on Saturday.

Mr Heins, who was also appointed to the board and named president of RIM, said he believed the Canadian firm had "tremendous potential", despite having experienced "a few bumps in the road".

He added there would be no big changes in the company's strategy following his appointment.

"This is not a seismic change. This is scaling the company further." However, he said the firm was in the process of recruiting a new chief marketing officer, with a focus on making RIM "more consumer-orientated".

Both Mr Lazaridis and Mr Balsillie - who rank among RIM's largest shareholders - will remain as board members.

RIM's Nasdaq-traded shares have plummeted 72.4 per cent over the past year, with prices now hovering at eight-year lows. The poor performance led to calls by shareholders for a new leader, as well as intense speculation RIM could be sold. Mr Heins said he would not be splitting up the company. "We are strong because we have an integrated solution. I want to build on that."

BlackBerry has come under competitive pressure from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android operating system, analysts said. It was also hit by a network breakdown in October, which affected users in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Matthew Reed, a senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media said RIM had fallen behind Google and Apple. "As a global company, they're in the doldrums, they're struggling on several fronts."

He said BlackBerry had also suffered from a delayed launch of a new operating system, its late and unsuccessful entrance into the tablet market, and its slow adoption of touchscreen technology.

While Mr Heins has not yet spelled out his full plans for the company, the appointment of an insider was a missed opportunity to install some fresh blood on RIM's management team, said Mr Reed. "We're still none the wiser as to how the company is going to deal with all those problems."

RIM's performance in the Middle East and Africa has bucked the global trend. It claimed a 140 per cent increase in BlackBerry subscribers in the Middle East in the year up to August.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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