Looking back at Thorsten Heins' first year as BlackBerry CEO

Thorsten Heins
By Team CrackBerry on 22 Jan 2013 07:42 pm EST

Today is Thorsten Heins' first anniversary as the CEO of Research In Motion, and it only seems fitting to recap the huge changes that we've seen since he took the job. Long story short - he's made a lot of incredibly important changes inside of the company.

So with it being the middle of January in Toronto, the very epicenter of CrackBerry Nation where the temperature is minus freakin' infinity, grab a warm beverage, sit back, and enjoy our look at the last 365 days of Thorsten's leadership.

It all started with a quiet Sunday night for CrackBerry Kevin, who halfway through a bottle of wine with Miss CrackBerry as they watched TV. There had been rumours of the RIM board of directors replacing Jim and Mike with a new CEO, but that's all they were until RIM officially press released the appointment of Thorsten Heins as CEO.

Little did we know at the time of the press release, but this marked the beginning of a new, and very media friendly BlackBerry era. In the past, Team CrackBerry had never been granted an interview with either of the co-CEOs. But Thorsten - his first call on that Sunday night was to Kevin.

We were optimistic about Thorsten's appointment to the corner office. The market wanted fresh blood and, as Chris Umiastowski wrote at the time, "Not only is Thorsten the youngest looking 54 year old I've ever met, but he's still pretty darn close to being fresh blood in my books. Personally, I'm excited to see this much-needed change happen. Of all the internal candidates to choose from, Thorsten is the best guy for the job."

Unfortunately, Wall Street didn't agree. In the first two days of trading following his CEO appointment, RIM dropped almost 13%. So what was Wall Street's problem? Analysts wanted to see bigger change. They wanted an outsider appointed to the top job. They saw Thorsten as one of the guys responsible for the downfall of RIM since he was the COO in charge of product engineering. We saw him as fresh blood with the added perspective of having seen RIM's internal problems for 4 years. He was hardly part of the old boys club.

Thorsten Heins
In Thor We Trust

But Thorsten Heins was off to a rough start. He was thrown into a series of media interviews. RIM's PR department sensibly wanted to introduce the new leader to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, his message did not resonate with enough people. We understood what he intended to say ... that RIM needed to buckle down, work hard, and get its new platform out to the market. But the media and the market only heard what sounded like denial. Thorsten was saying no change in strategy was necessary, and most of the world took that to mean "Hey - we're fine! We don't have any problems. Why are you all so worried?"

Kevin had a chance to do a more detailed interview with Thorsten later that same week, and he did good job of clarifying the distorted message that Wall Street seemed so intent on believing.

In February, at DevCon Europe, Thorsten made his first keynote presentation as the new CEO. Kevin was on site, and described it this way:

"As for Heins' presentation and presentation style itself, I thought he did a solid job for his first go as the BlackBerry Chief. No, he's not an over the top personality like Microsoft's Steve Ballmer nor a straight up smooth talking exec like Nokia's Stephen Elop. And that's ok. Heins comes across as very direct, honest and real. He's likable and personable, and as I noted in a tweet, he makes you feel very comfortable being in the audience (which I hate to say it, is a welcome contrast to RIM's previous Co-CEOs.). You can tell in addition to being smart, Heins is a calm, cool and collected kind of guy. Even during a slight demo malfunction, Heins took it in stride and never missed a beat. He definitely came across as confident over his duties of being the new leader of Research In Motion."

A few months later, Thorsten returned to the stage for BlackBerry World in Orlando. His keynote presentation was exciting for CrackBerry Nation because he introduced the BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboard and the time-shift camera. But there was something we liked even more, and that was the messaging around what it means to be a BlackBerry user. This keynote is where RIM started using the phrase, "BlackBerry is all about success".

Thorsten Heins at BlackBerry World

As strong as the keynote was, it wasn't until the next morning that we really got to see him shine. Thorsten Heins invited everyone in the media to a special presentation and Q&A session. The room was packed, and Heins hit the ball out of the park. He impressed everyone with his straight forward ability to answer most of the questions on people's minds before they were even asked. He was calm, cool, and very matter of fact in addressing the media. And it was something that Jim and Mike had never done. It was metaphorical. Not only was BlackBerry 10 shaping up to be a more open platform. RIM was becoming a much more open company, let by the communication strategy of its CEO.

Heins drove many executive changes within RIM. Upon his appointment as CEO he promised to hire a singlular Chief Operating Officer and a new Chief Marketing Officer. The waiting caused many pundits to wonder if and when he'd really pull the trigger on these C-suite hires. And then on May 9th, it happened. Kristian Tear and Frank Boulben were respectively appointed to these positions. Even now, it's too early to judge whether or not Thorsten hired the right guys. BlackBerry 10 hasn't launched yet so there is no way to measure the operating or marketing success that these gentlemen would have been involved with.


CEO Thorsten Heins and CMO Frank Boulben

Other executives left. David Yach, the company's former SVP of Software is believed to have been nudged into retirement. People we've spoken to have suggested that Yach, despite being a fantastic engineer, was too nice. He couldn't kick people in the ass when needed. This might explain why the RIM web browser was lacking for so many years.

RIM's chief legal officer, Karima Bawa, also left the company. It's no secret that the RIM legal department has been viewed as the guys responsible for slowing down progress on deals, and forcing us all to scroll through terms and conditions the size of Wikipedia's database just to install an upgraded version of App World.

Most recently, RIM CIO Robin Bienfaut left the company. She was ultimately in charge of the RIM network infrastructure, which suffered a massive outage in 2012, so her departure has some folks asking, "What took so long?"

These executive departures were part of a much broader restructuring of Research In Motion. The company had to face the reality of shrinking sales. BlackBerry 7 was build on an aging OS, and even the latest devices such as the Bold 9900 were no match for the slick hardware now running Android and iOS. BlackBerry subscribers were jumping ship in the US market, and analysts worried that this would be a virus that spread to other geographies.

The summer of 2012 proved to be the most difficult time in RIM's history. In conjunction with the release of its quarterly results for fiscal Q1, Heins was faced with the necessary decision to announce another painful delay of BlackBerry 10. Up until this point, the new CEO was working off a timeline promised by the former co-CEO, Mike Lazaridis. It became quite clear to us that Thorsten was not willing to launch a product that wasn't ready. After all, we've all seen how that one plays out. Playbook, anyone?

This was a crushing blow to the stock, and many industry pundits claimed that this was the death blow for RIM. People said they'd never be able to recover from this, and that the delay would make BlackBerry 10 irrelevant by the time it launched in the newly promised calendar Q1 period.

As it turns out, this was one area where Thorsten Heins and his team could have done a much better job in messaging. They should have explained the delay with more details, and the executive team, including CFO Brian Bidulka, should have been better prepared to answer the questions that anybody in his position could easily have anticipated. In short, the company's Q1 results led, at the time, to a loss of confidence in management. It should never have happened.

As the market reacted negatively to these events, RIM reacted too. They spent the better part of the following week clarifying their external communications. They wanted the world to know that the BlackBerry 10 delay wasn't 6 months, but in fact only about 8 or 9 weeks. This delay, however, pushed the nearest potential launch too far into the busy holiday season. There would be no point (and no good carrier support) in launching BlackBerry 10 in December. But a January launch seemed possible, and RIM started communicating the likelihood of an early Q1 launch rather than being later in the quarter.

They communicated all of this as part of a media blitz that arguably shouldn't have been required in the first place. This media blitz even included a guest article in Canada's largest newspaper, The Globe and Mail, penned by none other than Thorsten Heins.

Thankfully, after this, things started to improve. Thorsten wrote a followup article for the Globe in order to answer the most commonly-asked reader questions. He did a fantastic job, of providing straight forward, honest and meaningful answers. In our view, this messaging was a home run hit.

In August, speculation started to get pretty thick around the possibility of RIM exiting the hardware business. After all, Thorsten had always been very open about his willingness to consider any and all options to strengthen the company's position. Again, this simply made no sense to anyone who had been paying attention to Thorsten's plan. The company needed to prove the worth of BlackBerry 10 by launching it first. Then, and only then, would it make sense to do any sort of licensing, business divestiture, or other deal involving BlackBerry 10 hardware or software.

Behind the scenes, things were improving. BlackBerry 10 was becoming more polished, and RIM was out talking to the media a lot about the BlackBerry Hub and BlackBerry Flow experience they were so carefully crafting. But you wouldn't know it based on the stock market's reaction. During September and October, investors showed RIM just how little hope they held for the company's future. The stock declined to record lows approaching $6. In retrospect, this marked the bottom, and smart investors made themselves a lot of money. If you're in that camp, well done.

In late October, Thorsten Heins continued his media interviews and did something that went over really well. He did a complete interview with BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones. This was in stark contrast to the horrible April 2011 interview Lazaridis gave, which ended in him walking out of the room. Thorsten, unlike Lazaridis, came across well composed, confident, and cool despite Cellan-Jones asking some pretty uncomfortable questions.

The media blitz continued in November. There was no time for Thorsten Heins to rest, and he wasn't about to complain about it either. During this media blitz RIM formally announced January 30th as the official launch date for BlackBerry 10. Back then it seemed so far away. Now it's a matter of one week.

Thorsten Heins

Thorsten's first year as CEO wrapped up nicely. He won the Cantech Letter Executive of the Year award earlier this month. Then, on the eve of his one year anniversary on the job, RIM stock rallied 11%. Finally, the CrackBerry team toasted his accomplishments with a shot of Jägermeister. It seemed fitting.

Here's to hoping that year #2 is just as exciting, if not more.

Reader comments

Looking back at Thorsten Heins' first year as BlackBerry CEO


FIRST!! I don't usually do that..

Kevin - On a side note could you implement a refresh button similar to CNET's on the new website? That would be freakin awesome!

If you haven't seen it - when a new article is posted in the news section a refresh button appears and states how many new articles there are. It is a great way to stay on a site waiting for more articles, but not having to refresh or guess when there may be a new article.

We already saw that suggestion.. it's on the road map for the CB Redesign. Won't be there on the first rollout, but will come then. Until then, just hit refresh LOTS!

Love the 2nd pic! Great article guys. I hope Thor reads it knows that the CB nation is behind him and his vision.

.................................................and CrackBerry Kevin and team were there 100% of the way.

Good job guys ..... and keep the news coming!

Heins made BB10 happen and resurected RIM . That makes him the brightest star in my book. Cant wait for BB10 to put Apple in its iPlace.
I’d rather be a Black Sheep than an iSheep any day.

While I 100% will buy a z10 phone and I'm sure many others will, #teamblackberry won't put apple in its iplace. The reason? WE DON'T NEED TO! Apple's interface is also as old as the legacy bbos. They have no clear intention of breaking from their current path, which as we have seen has knocked 200$ from their stock, and as you are very well aware the iPhone 5 sales have dried up. The people we really need to worry about are Samsung, as they understand the idea of "fresh products" (android makes me sick). Apple is diminishing to a medium-size player. If blackberry gets a good collection of apps, I'm sure many people will leave android and its glitchy ways for blackberries.


Agreed!!! Apple is running out of ideas and running out fast! They are even going to release lower end iPhone 5's as well as the 5S to boost up sales (I thought Apple was meant to be known for premium). In a few years time Apple's iPhone will be dried up, so RIM has a chance overtaking Apple with their new BB10s (and whatever the future holds). It's just Samsung they've got to look out for and for Windows phone… That's an easy target in my view. RIM may the odds be forever in your favour.

Once was an iPhone user now a Blackberry craze fan.

Apple is 'running out of ideas...'

And you know this -FACTUALLY - HOW?

• You're a 'higher-up' at Apple?
• Your Tim Cook?
• A 'voice' whispered in your ear?

Yes - I DID say that with a touch of humour, but, the bigger point is - unless YOU know something - FACTUALLY - about Apple, or ANY OTHER company's plans, you can ONLY SPECULATE on what you THINK.

Apple - or ANY company would be VERY FOOLISH to tell it's 'big' plans, projects to 'just anyone,' whether it be through press release or otherwise.

Amongst the MANY reasons are; why would ANY company (especially a TECH company) which derives it's money from INNOVATION (particularly REvolutionary - as opposed to EVolutionary) , with new ideas, products to competing businesses?

Just because someone, some business doesn't 'announce' every plan (and, I will say Apple DOES keep it's cards very close to the vest), DOESN'T mean ANYTHING.

Saying what you said is very myopic - spoken from someone without ANY knowledge nor insight other than their pure guesswork - and NOT factual.

Wow, the CrackBerry team, myself and many others here have been on this entire ride of one year together. Thank you Thor for your leadership, cheers to one year of focus and laser execution and all the best in the next!

I can certainly see why he won the Cantech award. We can't wait for Z10!

QNX won us over initially, but Mr. Heins took it forward.

At the time of the announcement, I thought the company would have been better served by an outsider, a turnaround specialist with a good reputation on Wall Street. As it turns out, going with a successor to Lazaridis, who was groomed by Lazaridis was the better call. Thor made many of Lazaridis' more visionary and questionable decisions work when others wouldn't have tried. QNX? That OS/company has been failing to actually become a platform since Gateway/Amiga. Keeping valued employees hundreds and thousands of miles away from Waterloo and managing platform creation across the globe? There's an idea that shouldn't have worked -- even if Mike was correct to fear the infection of beauracratic culture within RIM's central control. Good arguments could have been made about selling the hardware division or about opening up the NAT, but Thor remained committed to actually following through on Lazaridis' vision. An outsider probably would have just hit the reset button and called his predecessor and idiot.

Probably Lazaridis :) I have to say that he had the right vision but he didn't have the personality that Heins did. Heins was able to suffer through RIM's worst year ever while sticking to the plan. The plan was perfect with some key acquisitions: Certicom (trailblazing security firm), Torch Mobile, QNX, TAT, Docs To Go, Dash Navigation, Gist, Paratek, etc. These carefully thought out acquisitions provided the fuel, ammo, and spark for BB10.

Few companies have managed to do what RIM is attempting. A complete transformation. I can't wait to see what the big picture is on January 30th. I also hope BB10 lands on my PlayBook very, very soon!

It's a good thing Thor delayed BlackBerry 10. Look at the development tools: during the delay they are utilized to its fullest. Instead of relatively zero 3rd party apps, BlackBerry 10 now has thousands upon thousands of apps at launch. Including the Android-warranting games! BlackBerry 10 now has a good ecosystem for starter.
Like Skyrim, a wrong deadline reduces the end product to a crap full of bugs. And BlackBerry 10 doesn't have the luxury of patches and community modders. Either it succeeds or it flops.

The fact that the nytimes and several other games and apps are on bb10 has led quite a few people I know to hold off of their holiday upgrade to look at the phone.

Thor has RIM headed in the right direction and he has already gone above and beyond to prove the naysayers wrong. This is a very exciting time indeed! :-)

I'm sorry, I just am not on the Thor bandwagon. I surely wish him and RIM success and very much want to see RIM succeed. However Thor hasn't done a thing to impress me yet. Instead of calling Kevin, he should of been calling Hulu, Netflix's and Skype and gotten us the APP's that MOST, not all but most other tablets have. IMHO he has totally failed us playbook owners not to mention more of the same in terms of delays of updates and phones. I want to see results, I want to see deadlines met. I want to see RIM support it's devices in terms of making sure they have the major apps that others have. Sorry Thor, personally as a BB user/customer, I don't see a dang thing you've done for me but brought more of the same. I just hope and pray that the new BB10 phones will be as good as all the hype (things rarely are). Hoping for the best.

I would disagree with the comment about Playbook being a failure. Has it been perfect? No. Is it a failure? No. If you look at it as being a toy to play with (games, videos, etc), you may be disappointed. I don't think it was really designed to do that. I see the playbook as being an extension of your Blackberry phone on the one hand and an experiment on BB10 (call it BB10 sub1). Blackberries have been known as BUSINESS devices that are secure. For me the biggest asset of the Playbook is that it can bridge to my Blackberry and bring over data that I can view on the tablet in a bigger format. I can get my work done with it and keep the data safe and secure on the phone. Once I break the bridge, the data is gone from my Playbook which is not as secure, but still safely tucked away on my BB phone. That helps me be productive. Therefore I see the Playbook as a niche device, not intended to be an iPad killer. Mind you with a browser that works quite well, maybe you don't need the apps, all you need to do is go to the actual website and use that.

Agree, Playbook is not a failure. I had my new laptop stolen a while ago and since then I am using PB more and more for business during trips and meetings. It is great! Presentations, quickly showing stuff on the web, recording meetings, while I use it to present in the same time, the only thing that I don't like is a somehow slow messaging/calendar native apps.

And on the road I use it a lot for games or watching videos. The only App I am missing is Skype.

Plus, PB did provide a lot of insides on how to improve BB10 so it is really good already at launch.

Thorsten indeed made RIM a more open culture, connected to strong community of BB users. I think he is the best person for the job :)

I don't see where he said the PlayBook was a failure, he said PB owners were failed by RIM under Thor's leadership by not getting the big three apps that are most missed. Let's face facts, the absence of Skype, Netflix and Hulu is purely political. I seldom use these services so it was never an issue for me but every time I did a pitch to a friend for a PlayBook, they all asked if it did Skype calls.

I wish BB10 the biggest success, and I hope it is the success story of 2013. RIM deserves some praise for suffering through potshots all year long. Despite that, they are delivering two revolutionary smartphones -- game changers! Yeah baby!

I was sceptical first, when T.Heins took the helm- german leadership (especially with the background of SIEMENS*) means wrong ideology, average ability, pedagogues gibberish... But he surprises everybody (including me).... He took over a heap of shards and transformed it in something with the potential to be a phoenix from the ashes.... Long story short: awesome job!
(In Germany SIEMENS stands for backward tec... *S-icher I-st E-ines M-an E-rhält N-ur S-cheiß.... Means roughly: Sure is only one thing you get only sh*t)

I remember one year ago so clearly...it seems like several years packed into one!
Rock On, Thorsten! Rock On, Team Crackberry!
This year will be 10 x the fun!


I feel like some of the people who run this site are so self-centered. Kevin this, Crackberry Nation that. I mean come on, live feed of guys sitting around in a house? Seriously? Also, please get over the fact that the two douchebag CEOs never really acknowledged your existence; it comes off unprofessional and desperate.

100% here for Thor!

I'm here to read about the BlackBerry brand, discuss its products in the forums and as you say, have fun. But my gripe is that sometimes the main page looks like a glorified blog and I think some of the posts would be better suited to the forum.

Super Hero! What he and his team has done is remarkable and not an easy feat at all.. Given constant backlash from the media/analysts..!!!!!!!!! Holding ground all the way!!

This is not just a good article; it's also a very kind, even affectionate article. You guys did an excellent job on this "Year in Review". Thank you.

Wall Street wanted one of their own for the job, because that's how they work; grease palms, jobs for the boys.

I don't know if they still do, probably not, but German schoolchildren used to have to read a long poem by Schiller, the Lied von der Glocke. It's about how bells are cast, but it is also (a lot) about the role of the master craftsman, the importance of putting your best efforts into your work, and the role of (and importance of) made products in wider society. I came across it in school German and I can still remember bits of it. Germans have said to me that the Lied sums up their working culture.
Bells were used as messaging devices in the past; from the church bells you could tell whether there was a christening, a marriage or a funeral.

Thorsten Heins seems to be trying to pass these attitudes over to RIM.

Whatever happens next, I'd say that he did an amazing job with what he was handed to. And...54? Really? :)

Hi Guys,

I am not the comment type of guy, but i couldnt resist to this post.

Well derserved attention to Heins, if this guy pulls it through , my GOD what a come back!!!
Will shutdown so many mouth, specially our Beloved BGR.

1. Any ways Got BES 10 up and running on my DEV laptop, should be in production in a week.

2. 12 Z10 put a side from our Contact at T****, ( yeah i know people).

3. Dev alpha has been returned to RIM so i could get my LIMITED Edition in TIME!!!

I could be wrong but my source is telling me first week of FEB BB10 hardware should be rolling out. : )

So all the best to RIM and great JOB Crackberry , you guys are the Best of the Best.

Kevin you work is very much appreciated.

Heinz stuck to the plan that RIM had set in place long before he became CEO which suggests that he perhaps engineered much of the plan that RIM has followed but lets face it, the prior CEOs put this wheel into motion a long time ago. He is doing a great job though and the best decision he made IMO is delaying the launch. Nothing could hurt RIM more than another flagship product released prematurely.

Mr. Thorsten's...'FIRST' year?

You should probable re-title it to (either) 'time AT Blackberry,' or 'only year at...'

Not meant with humour nor malice.