What BlackBerry CEO John Chen's first hire tells us

By Chris Umiastowski on 18 Dec 2013 02:57 pm EST
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Yesterday we saw BlackBerry tap John Sims as the new President of Enterprise Services. He is leaving his current role as President of Mobile Services at SAP to take on this newly created position at BlackBerry.

I’m honestly happy to see this because for some time now I’ve been concerned about the quality of management on the enterprise side of the company. Here’s an article where I discussed my concerns on strategy, communication and execution.  When Thorsten Heins was CEO he did quite a lot of work to reshape the executive team and bring BlackBerry 10 to market. But it also feels like the enterprise side of the company took a back seat, which was probably a huge mistake.

As far back as I can remember, BlackBerry never had any divisional presidents.  They’ve had C-level titles, Vice Presidents, and Senior Vice Presidents.  Unless I’m mistaken, there has never been a president of anything at BlackBerry.  Think about this:  John Chen’s first major hire was a  guy with experience in the enterprise software business appointed to the role of president in a company that never had a president running the enterprise business before. This is a pretty obvious sign of how seriously Chen views the enterprise business.

Two days ago, when I wrote about the most recent executive departures, I suggested that Chen was looking for different skill sets in its executive team.  I also said I’d like to see who he hires, because it would reveal a lot more about what his goals are.  Now we know more.

I’m also curious about the title “Enterprise Services”, with an emphasis on the word “services”. I’ve always thought that the transition to BlackBerry 10 should coincide with a transition to a SaaS model (software as a service), where BES licenses are not sold (ever) on a one-off basis, but billed monthly or yearly.  Same thing for enterprise mobility management of other devices (iOS and Android).  It’s unclear to me what’s actually happening.  It seems you can buy lifetime licenses for BlackBerry, but iOS and Android are annual licenses.  If this can’t be communicated easily to people, someone should be fired.  Something is broken.  Maybe Chen and Sims will be fixing this stuff.  

In my mind, a success for the enterprise business would be to 1) convince people BlackBerry will be around for a long time; 2) clean up the actual product offering and pricing so it’s super simple to explain to customers; 3) push like hell on cloud-hosted enterprise mobility management products since this is going to be an important growth area.  If they can do this and sign up a bunch of customers we might just have what we need to replace all of the recurring consumer service revenue that is disappearing day by day.

Reader comments

What BlackBerry CEO John Chen's first hire tells us

86 Comments

Me too. "Crack"berry cracked up. Hope Quickie will find it as funny....

My name is Prem, I'm using BBM ... from my QuZe10 ...whatarhyme...

We were waiting for your comments Chris, I think the hire is in the right direction and confirms the path BB is taking, at least now all the messages to the market are consistent.

And also speaks volumes that someone is willing to leave a senior position with SAP to come to BlackBerry.

Of course he's getting a bigger title at BlackBerry which he can use down the road for another company and plus a better pay package.

Is this a personal connection to Chen, then? Do you know any history here between these guys?

Posted via CB10

My bad Chris. But still his new title as President of "Enterprise Services" verses mobile services has a better ring and sounds and is more important. And I'm sure he's getting a much better pay package for being now President of Enterprise Services.

Totally agree! Someone with that kind of position comes to BlackBerry? Wow, this ship might actually continue to sail!

Posted via CB10

Good read. Lets hope the outcome is positive. It's soo hard to tell what BlackBerrys results will be like.

Posted via CB10

What it tells me is that he might only hire other "John's" and that seems a bit egotistical. But what you said is good too ;)

Some people proclaimed Thorsten Heins as saviour early into his tenure only to be gravely disappointed. Let's wait and see if John Chen delivers positive results for BlackBerry users.

Posted via CB10

All companies are like show businesses... everything they did from the very start is excellent i.e. from the selection of actors and actresses, the script writers, the director (itself), the cast, the story line, etc... until it shown to the public and "flop"...

I definitely not concluding that this management restructuring being done by BlackBerry will "flop"... but rather emphasizing that the truth will set as free, I mean, the results will tell us if they did the right thing... same thing happened with TH that the entire BlackBerry's world thought that he could change BlackBerry's history - for a better...

Posted via CB10

It's definitely not easy. This is why it's not for everyone. To all fairness, TH did put up a fight for BlackBerry. Let's just hope for the best.

Posted via CB10

I think I would reserve judgment, until we see more hirings and a orgizational structure. That will be telling on what Chen really believes is moving BlackBerry forward.

Posted via CB10

My most sincere hope is that BBRY stops taking the approach where anything can "take a back seat". The history of RIM/BBRY/ Blackberry for the last 5+ years is that they can only focus on one small thing at a time, often to the exclusion of anything else, often resulting in huge holes in marketing, ecosystem, hardware and/or operating system. Chen needs to be quite the executive mechanic in order to unsieze the engine and get all pistons firing.

Mr. John Chen is serious! He's a warrior in a business suit. Rebuilding BlackBerry is Chess not Checkers.

Keep The Faith

I'm so glad Chen seems to continue in what is probably the best strategic direction being business / enterprise focus. Let's hope this hire further confirms his and BlackBerry's commitment towards this market.

Chris U, I give you a great deal of credit for re-stating your position on this. I have been a strong believer that this was the best chance of survival for BlackBerry and recall you pointing this out a while back. Thank you for your insight.

Posted via CB10

Good post, Chris. I agree that a SaaS model makes sense. I also think that BlackBerry should push in the cloud mobile management space, but I suspect that a number of its existing customers are a little paranoid about the cloud and security given headlines in the US.

BlackBerry should continue to develop it's Enterprise services, but I see several lines of Enterprise as markets that will soon be occupied by smaller, more nimble firms and the others will be dominated by consumer electronics firms that have won the consumer race like Microsoft and Sammy. In the end, enterprise should use friendly consumer tech on platforms their employees already know how to use and enjoy using rather than an "enterprise specific alternative" unless there's something essential missing from the consumer product. I fear that Microsoft could deliver a death blow here, but their emphasis right now is competing in the consumer game because winning their is necessary for winning in enterprise in the future as well...

In fact, normally I'd reject the enterprise / consumer distinction as short sighted, but I think the marketing / sales is distinct enough to justify the separate divisions with a President of Enterprise. I'm hoping to see more services, as well. That way we don't have a product manager with the "President" title, but instead a real President.

Posted via CB10

I agree that the distinction between enterprise and consumer may disappear one day, after significant further socio-economic evolution, ideally. But until then, realistically there're long list of outstanding enterprise specific problems that need to be solved and that's what BlackBerry's core strength is right now. Much like one can possibly tackle the enterprise by conquering the consumer first; an alternative strategy is to conquer, or in this case, re-conquer the enterprise and then tackle the consumer after. And that's what seems to be the only option on the table for BlackBerry now. But not a bad option at all.

When Thor came to BB everyone here was saying this guy is the savior for the then RIM. Now everyone is saying Chen is the savior. Think it's time to cut back on the BB coolaid.

I don't agree. Nobody seems to be saying Chen is a saviour yet. But he's a shot, and he has some experience that Thorsten lacked, which two years ago I wouldn't have realized was as important as it is.

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Good analysis. I also believe Blackberry's comparative advantage is enterprise, and if it is going to survive this needs special attention. The sooner the better. If successful in this space, the benefit will be happy customers who will use the technology for personal and for family use. This was the pathway to BlackBerry's initial huge success. This time round, if BlackBerry can get traction from business users, it must also be highly up to date for other family members... riding on android is a good plan for that.

Posted via CB10

Hey Chris, much appreciated! Reading your articles both back then and now reveals so much. BlackBerry really has always had all the ingredients necessary to succeed immensely in the enterprise. It just didn't have the right glue - a clear, strong strategy well shaped and well communicated internally and externally, and as a result, could not execute what it was capable of, or perhaps didn't bother to as it was in hot pursuit of the elusive consumer market. It's exciting to watch Chen clearly cleaning things up and putting the right gears in to drive an enterprise strategy forward. Though he hasn't said much, he has communicated very effectively with what he actually has said and done since he took helm. Let's hope this is just the beginning!

If Sims is a work-alcoholic it's all good,because that's what BB needs.A good CEO delegates,and those people ,who are given a task, better perform.I hope it's not a here we go again story.I also think Prem has chosen the right man ,who puts his money where his mouth is.

Great article Chris. I think that BlackBerry is positioning itself were their core strength is and that is enterprise. The other platforms are very focused on the consumer front and I think there will be a saturation point in the consumer end and BlackBerry can take advantage of having a different offering with great room to grow on. BB10 is a superb platform. I truly think Mr. Chen is doing what he needs to do reestructure BlackBerry.

Posted via CB10

The Palm parallels just won't stop. Leo Apothecker came from SAP too, you know. He really worked out great.

Honestly, I think this guy is going to be CEO in a year or so. That's why he left SAP. Chen said he wants the CEO to have software experience and the company is supposed to focus on enterprise. It's just a way to ease him in.

Posted via CB10

It;s going to take more than a year to turn Blackberry around. Give it 2 years for Chen to get things going. He'll stay longer if he can really make Blackberry successful again.

I stopped using BlackBerry since 3years despite been a big fan.Even when da bb10 Os was out I stepped back and was still happy to be on android.
But few days back I couldn't resist keeping away from bb. I got my z10 in hand as if am back home.

Posted via CB10

This is indeed very good moves on BlackBerry part, heavy focus of enterprise side and back end. Just let Apple n Samsumg deal with comsumer aspect. Now if they can parnter with a soc like qualcomm that would awsome.

Posted via CB10

"In my mind, a success for the enterprise business would be to 1) convince people BlackBerry will be around for a long time; ..."

Have to agree. The business community is a staid lot. More than anything, they fear instability, which is almost synonymous with uncertainty.

Remove the uncertainty and the enterprise folk will be willing to listen to plans and strategies.

On the other hand, if they have the smallest suspicion that BlackBerry will disappear then there is simply nothing more that can be said. Listening would be seen as a simple waste of time.

Removal of uncertainty is key.

The attraction of significant talent says a lot. It means currently independent people are buying into John Chen's personal vision and publicly joining in. Bravo.

Posted via CB10

For those of us that have worked with SAP and enterprise products for years, these appointments make a lot of sense.

Doing business with the big end of town is all about 3 things: 1) who you know; 2) mutual sucking up; 3) being able to write a report explaining why you made a bold decision, yet making sure that if things go wrong, it can't be blamed on you.

It's not the way it should be but it's just how it works. Chen is surrounding himself with people who understand how the game is played, that's what BlackBerry lacked under TH.

Posted via CB10

I heard the band playing this tune when the mighty Thor came on board. Hopefully the ending is different.

Sent while driving from my CrackBerry.

Lets not over read this title- calling someone a sanitation engineer doesn't make the streets cleaner! But it looks like a quality team of outsiders who are not encumbered with history and institutional memory.

Posted via CB10

They just need rock have more apps!!! That's the only thing BlackBerry missing.... every thing is super ok. Iove BlackBerry 10 love my z10 and honestly. Never thought I will actually live z10 as am a bold user...

PS: to Chen if ur reading this... and u know what obviously missing... APPS!!!! make it even with Android and apple...

Then

Everything is perfect

Posted via CB10

The transformation continues. Interesting that Enterprise now has a president. I wonder if he will make similar appointments in hardware and and software and services (xBBM, BB10, QNX).

Posted while peeking and flowing on my incredible BBQ10!

Yes a fresh set of executives is what was needed. I guess the timing of these hire announcements means Chen is not going to have much of a game plan to present on Friday morning. This has to be worked out with the new team. I think that means new lows based on another big loss. But they have the money to keep the doors open long enough to turn things around. I hope they keep developing the BB10 platform as it is just getting competitive feature wise with the other major handsets (still behind in selection of apps though).

JFF7

I wonder by creating one division with a President, does that mean we will see other divisions and more presidents? That could happen if you view each as an operating entity with separate balance sheets. BlackBerry corporate becomes a strategic head office running some common services. I'm not sure the company is big enough for this structure but it would certainly bring focus to each operating unit in a hurry.

Posted via CB10

Hi Chris.
You nailed it.
SAAS BES *is* coming early 2014. Fees would be in the €15/$20 per year/device (yes, device, not user)
Now, I'm raving the new organization. Me "armchair CEO" was arguing about that for months, when talking about quitting the hardware : "do not slice/split the company hardware/software but consumers/Enterprises". That's a VERY nice move.
And BTW, BBM is not enterprise, as BlackBerry positions it ;).

Awesome keep them coming. What's funny is people aren't thar well educated on the BB10 os. I work in the tech field and a bunch of Galaxy and IPhone folks keep checking out my phone and had no idea about the swipe based OS. BlackBerry show it off more.

Posted via CB10

So this is the guy who is gonna lead the sale of BB's hardware division to someone that can use the supply chain?

Otherwise it is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

former big guy from SAP to come in and help a company in a crucial time for their mobile hardware etc divisions ... Leo? HP?!

with BB not going private there will still be much pressure from shareholders etc for increased margins... That is what killed WebOS and almost took the entirety of HP with it. BBry will be software only focused on enterprise within 2 years.