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Weighing in on Research In Motion's new CEO, Thorsten Heins

Thorsten Heins
By Chris Umiastowski on 23 Jan 2012 12:01 am EST
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Tonight, both CrackBerry Nation and Wall Street have some pretty exciting news to mull over. Mike and Jim have stepped down as Co-CEOs, and the board has acted on their suggested succession path by naming Thorsten Heins as the new CEO.

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.

Replacing a CEO with a complete outsider is usually the best way to shake up a company, but it also comes with big risks. An outsider won't understand the corporate culture, for example. And he'd need a lot of time to ramp up on all of the various projects going on within the company.

Thorsten is sort of the best of both worlds. He's an outsider compared to the "old boys club" that you hear people talking about within RIM. I say this because he joined the company in December 2007. That's only 4 short years ago. He has seen RIM through its final year of hyper-growth, and he has witnessed its response to the iPhone and Android.

I remember listening to and watching Thorsten speak to the investment community at BlackBerry World 2011, this past May. He's one of those clear presenters who doesn't get caught up in emotions. For an operations guy, this is what you want to see. Great operations are about analysis, logic, relationships with suppliers, and execution. He grabs me as the right person to understand what's happening within RIM and within the external competitive environment. He's not going to let emotion and history blind him. He's not the type of guy to tell Wall Street to "Just wait until you see what's coming" as Jim so often did.

Make no mistake ... I hold enormous respect for both Jim and Mike. Over the last 10 years I've had great conversations with both of them many times. They are super sharp guys who deserve our respect. They built RIM from the ground up to the $20 billion dollar (sales) company that it is today.

Both Mike and Jim, together, did some absolutely amazing things. They showed the world what a smartphone was. They invented and mass-marketed push email. They got BlackBerry into the sales funnel of hundreds of wireless carriers globally.

Then, after more than 10 years, solid competition finally emerged. Every CEO has his strengths and weaknesses. For some reason, because it is winter, I feel like a skiing metaphor is in order. Mike and Jim were unbelievable downhill powder skiers. They carved new paths where none existed. They build a NOC. They build the BES. They created BIS and BBM. They delivered the unified inbox.

But then Steve Jobs disrupted the smartphone experience with a brilliant and near-flawless user interface. Android quickly followed suit. They shifted the audience's attention to a new race where multi-touch input and mobile app stores were what mattered.

RIM was too slow to respond, and sat in denial for far too long. Mike and Jim, despite their amazing run as chief executives, needed to pass the baton to a new leader. Perhaps they should have done this a few years ago, but it's not like they stayed around in denial all this time either. They brought in the QNX team. They added the user interface wizardry of TAT.

Thorsten Heins looks like a natural choice for RIM's next CEO. He's experienced enough within RIM to understand the culture and the challenges. But he's fresh enough, with only 4 of his 27 years in industry spent at RIM. I expect that he'll be more clear-headed in how he thinks about the business and the competition. After all, most of his time at RIM has been in challenging times rather than the glory years. I think that's a good thing.

I expect Wall Street will like this change too. Most investors just wanted to see a new CEO in place. Well, they got their wish.

I also couldn't help but notice that Lazaridis plans to buy another $50 million in RIM stock. I think it's encouraging to see that RIM's founder still feels encouraged enough about what's happening within the company to buy more stock.

RIM is holding a conference call tomorrow morning (Monday) at 8am. I'm excited to listen in. I'll be back with more afterwards ...

35 comments

ElSteve9

A well written, realistic article.

-Stephen

DJCigar

It's not just a well written article or Kevin being star struck. It seems change in these time is good. Besides Mike and Jim still have stock in the company. It's about stock value, market share and consumer perception.

raremage

This can only be good for the strategic direction of BlackBerry as well as my RIM stock.

Blackberry_boffin

I think he really needs to get the word out there pronto about what will happen next. The stock just tanked about 7% as some feel its more of the same or that Jim and Mike will still run things by proxy.

BBPandy

I predicted that. With the CO-CEO's gone, it just means that their critics will have to find a new reason complain...sure didn't take them long though. The Best one is "Thorstein has a reputation of executing. He’s not a visionary like Steve Jobs” I thought one of the biggest complaints & biggest problems at BlackBerry over the past year or so was RIM's inability to execute. So wouldn't that be good?

I have no respect for most of these analysts. The loudest ones, are the ones who realy don't know anything.

btw B4 today, RIM's stock was out performing the NASDAQ. 17% vs 8%

BBPandy

Yea I'm thinking of changing my schedual tomorow so I can watch the webcast...

JoyfulHeart35

An exciting time for RIM.....I hope they take advantage of it

Ezcal

For the conference call, 8am in which timezone?

RoseBud68

Lets hope these new fresh eye will change thing for the better. And let hope the old CEO's don't have any input in his decision.

tedrex

This guy sucks. Looks like just another smiley career criminal, no substance.
Excited about this and that... Sick to hear sh*t like that.
Just tell me what is the problem with RIM and how you gonna fix it.
Otherwise, too bad for RIM.

Brianflys

Crawl back under your bridge, troll. You will not upset what is another of the new line of smart moves by RIM. RIM is rolling, and there is nothing you can say or do that will stop it now...:)

Maybe blue open-neck shirts will be the new black?

tedrex

another smart move? RIM move has not always been smart, otherwise they shouldn't have been in such deep trouble. Mark my words, this guy has no guts to turn RIM around.

BB10FTW

So even when we get an optimistic forward thinking new CEO you're unhappy? Its his first day or night rather and you expect him to lay out an entire plan on how he is going to "save" the sinking company? For starters he is Freaking Awesome and second RIM's stock is whats dead not the company. Why don't you just applaud and be happy that new direction has come. You remind me of the analysts who complain even when the changes they were complaining about get changed. Have some patients and wait for tomorrows call.

tedrex

I have no reason to applaud to a crappy looking and sounding CEO. I even fear it is a change for worse.

dirtyberry75

I hope BlackBerry keeps its legendary keyboard (Bold 9900 and Torch 9810) give us a real OS that actually competes in today's market, and stop with the expensive games from Atari 7800!!!

tedrex

another smart move? RIM move has not always been smart, otherwise they shouldn't have been in such deep trouble. Mark my words, this guy has no guts to turn RIM around.

BB10FTW

GO THORSTEN HEINS!!!!!!!

Dapper37

Solid move RIM, plus Fairfax financial is a major share holder now witch is a blocking move against any unwanted holstile take over attempt. The transition is on and was planed out well.

Peritaxis

Heins is a German! And hey, look at Europe now, the only country still standing strong is Germany. Having a German practical yet innovative mindset is what RIM needs right now.

And maybe, help BlackBerry break into the German market, which is sorely amiss at the moment amongst all the Droids and iPhones.

BBPandy

Yea Maybe the BOLD line will be replaced by the BMW line :P

imcurved

Great news just in time for Lunar new year, the year of the Dragon. Wishing RIM all the best. May she turn around soaring and flying high like a dragon.

Vee_G

Off topic, but I always enjoy Chris' articles. I find them very informative and fair.

greatwiseone

I'm a bit surprised at some of the criticisms at this decision from the media (see engadget's editorial for instance)...sold decision I think.

BeckerSK

Chris

Thorstan's selection is probably a pretty good one at this point for RIM. They needed a change but he has enough time with RIM to understand their culture. If they brought in a total outsider there would be resistance to the changes he needs to make over the next 6 months. So they probably have the right balance. Having worked at Siemens I understand a little bit about the DNA that Thorstan will bring to the table. He will bring a number of strengths:

Focus on execution, do it right and on schedule
Logistics
International perspective of the market
Strong tradition in technology

However, Siemens strength was always in commercial and industrial clients, never in the consumer end. In fact they usually had trouble in competing in industries that were driven by consumers. They need to hire a new marketing guru from completely outside of RIM.

Chris Umiastowski

Absolutely agree - Jim was wearing the CMO hat, and I never saw him as the right person for that (as I wrote many times). So they need a super marketing guy to step up, and for that I believe it has to be an outsider.

I hope this comes up on the call in 20 minutes ... so on that note, gotta go get breakfast !!

katiepea

i was excited to see the CEO's stepped down, then i read what has actually happened, not only did they go to positions where they're still going to be a HUGE part of RIM, they've been replaced with someone who is likely for all intents and purposes, actually more responsible then them for where blackberry is currently at. this is probably the worst decision they could have made for a new CEO. this guy served chief operating officer of product engineering for years. pretty sure he should have been fired, not promoted, i figured crackberry would have only positive news spin on this issue, so i looked to see what other channels were saying, and they seem to be mirroring my sentiment about the topic. http://engt.co/A7BDU2 ... pretty much agree with everything written there.

editionfws

What the hell is in his hand in that picture?

xiaohuaxing

I dont get what TAT has been doing this whole time since they were bought. They made one app, Scrapbook. Then what? The cascades thing? Where is it?

SuperionMaximus

Let's hope RIM answers that question at BlackBerry World or Mobile World Congress (though that might be to soon). I agree that RIM has been slow to integrate the acquired assets though the demo of Tablet OS 2.0 shows they are making progress with at least Gist with the PIM apps. I hope RIM Sweden (TAT) has a bigger role in the overall design and layout of the BB 10 UI as the progression to Tablet 2.0 still seems to need a bit more polish and uniformity. The UI still lacks a cohesive overall design language like iOS or the much hated Metro in Windows Phone 7, or even Halo in Android 4.0. It's good, don't get me wrong and the usability is fantastic, but needs some more work visually and RIM's European arm specializes in that.

XPEH

Any comment on why the stock has been plummeting? Down 7% so far today. And that's after being up 4% pre-market. After the conference call, it started falling. Wall Street isn't impressed by the changes?

SuperionMaximus

Because the Market does not want RIM to execute it's current plans. They want RIM to do what Nokia did, and throw in the towel and choose a presidential candidate to back... er.. I mean pick an ecosystem to support.

But there are parallels to the republican presidential race in the US. RIM is the candidate none of the pundits want to get the nomination yet they still keep winning primaries (growing their business). The market wants the stability that comes from having two or three big players making up the whole market and that's it. They don't want some little Canadian company pulling off the upset and defeating the "mighty" Microsoft/Nokia whatever the hell it is and maintaining their rightful spot at the top of the market. But what they don't get is Nokia gave up, and Microsoft has NEVER won over the market in mobile and RIM has kicked their ass for years in the mobile space.

Apple's luster will eventually wear off as their time at the top has already passed. They are currently where RIM was when they launched the original Pearl. At the top of their game but on the verge of decline. iOS has stagnated. It looks exactly the same today as it did in 2007. The every other year for a dramatically different phone model is not sustainable. Android changed things with their rapid development and are eating Apple's lunch. Microsoft modeled their whole approach after Apple's but bet it all on Metro a UI they've been trying to make catch on for 6 years now and have yet to be successful. So there is AT LEAST as great a chance that Microsoft will fail for the umpteenth time in Mobile and RIM still has a huge user base world wide that it can grow from. Symbian users sure as hell aren't flocking to Windows Phone though. If RIM maintains their core competencies in the new platform and delivers an even better user experience then the Playbook, I see no reason to be worried about their future.

ELoXL

Is it just me or can you NOT think of Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island when saying his name?

The words just want to come out when I make an attempt at talking about the new CEO - lol.