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RIM’s (Very) Bad Hair Day: Missing Leadership and the Blackberry’s Demise

January 15, 2012

Updated January 23, 2012
While I was writing this post, rumors were swirling in technology land about a successor to RIM’s two co-CEOs. Well, that decision was finally made this morning with the announcement of former chief operating officer Thorsten Heins as president and CEO of Research in Motion. The company’s board of directors unanimously chose Heins. RIM’s stock price edged up in response, and as co-CEO Mike Lazaridis gushed: “‘I am so confident in RIM’s future that I intend to purchase an additional $50 million of the company’s shares.”

Indeed. Time will tell whether Lazaridis maintains that enthusiasm.

I recall when I worked for the federal government the mushroom-like growth of Blackberries. The last department I worked at before retiring at the end of 2010 was Industry Canada, which earned the reputation of being the most addicted to Blackberries, aka Crackberries. Whether in meetings, hallways, bathrooms or elevators, the ubiquitous Blackberry could be seen stuck to the sides of employees’ faces. Typically these were managers and directors. Lowlife staffers only occasionally received one of these devices.

It was interesting to watch the ritual at meetings, where Blackberryholics delicately placed their worshipped sidekicks on the table in front of them, awaiting the buzz (or clamoring ring) from one of their bosses. If you were a presenter you may just as well have talked to a lamp shade for the limited attention you were receiving from these B-berry worshippers.

But the Blackberry was king for a number of years, and still is the mobile tool of choice for public servants and political hacks in North America.

And then something happened. His name was Steve Jobs, and he accelerated his efforts to create a world-class wireless device, the iPhone. This was quickly followed by the iPad, a concept he conceived in the nineties.

And something even bigger occurred along the same time continuum. Its name is Google, which developed the Android operating system.

So much has taken place during the past five years in the areas of tablets and smart phones that I believe that people haven’t stopped to take a breath and say, “Holy crap! How did we ever function without them?”

Research in Motion (RIM) emerged as Canada’s premier high-tech company. Led by Greek-Canadian businessman Mike Lazaridis, who founded RIM and is the co-CEO, the company is the only Canadian technology firm that gets itself on international rankings. In short, RIM replaced Nortel has Canada’s pride and joy, in terms of R&D, its global brand and its rapid growth.

However as the saying goes, the bigger they are the harder they fall. Nortel collapsed in a massive dust cloud, though its death was prolonged far too long, and became a public spectacle of gross management greed, corruption and incompetence.

RIM’s case is very different, except for the common theme of management hubris when it came to believing that it had the world by the tail. In a remarkably short space of time, RIM went from being a leading edge innovator to a company scrambling to catch up to smart phone competitors, all the while its stock continued to nose-dive.

The rocket-fueled growth of tablets, led by the outstanding Apple iPad, once again caused RIM to react, hastily producing a poorly reviewed Playbook.

Lazaridis and co-CEO Jim Balsillie are hanging in, exploring new opportunities for RIM. One recent development is providing security for iPhones and Android devices through its Mobile Fusion program.

The pace of change in mobile computing is accelerating so quickly that unless RIM quickly finds new technology niches and markets it risks a further descent. The company is experiencing what happened to Nokia, once the wireless phone of choice. Nokia’s now infamous burning platform memo from CEO Stephen Elop articulates the challenges facing corporate leaders in a volatile and fast-changing world. There are no prisoners, just the entrails of once glorious companies.

Lazaridis and Balsillie would do well to pay heed to Nokia’s plummet to near obscurity.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.
(Portion of Stephen Elop’s memo to Nokia employees)


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 2:52 pm

    Hey Pat. Thanks for your comment. All I can say is: “Go Android!” 🙂

  2. January 23, 2012 2:09 pm

    Scary for us Blackberry Users. However, even though RIM has slipped, I bought a Playbook! Let’s hope the new CEO fuels a marked recovery! Thanks for your post, Jim!

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