WHAT IF Thorsten Heins had become BlackBerry CEO 3 Years Ago?

What If?!
By Kevin Michaluk on 23 Aug 2012 05:47 pm EDT

Inspired by our love for What If comics, WHAT IF is a new Mobile Nations series where we have some fun and discuss how differently things might look now if "something" was done differently back then... 

If Thorsten Heins had become Research In Motion's CEO three years ago, I believe we'd already have BlackBerry 10 phones in our hands today. Heck, if he became CEO even two years ago... maybe even 18 months ago... I believe we'd already have them.

And as a result of BlackBerry 10 hitting the market sooner, I think we'd already be at far more than 80 million BlackBerry subscribers and a share price much higher than $7. Maybe some of the necessary layoffs at RIM would have proved less necessary as well.

Sure, he's only been on the job for eight months and a day, but in that time the might of Thor's hammer has already brought about a ton of organizational change, including a much-need restructuring that puts execution at the core. RIM as a company has changed a lot since Mike and Jim stepped down, for the better.

Thorsten inherited a lot of baggage when he stepped into the role of CEO, and there's no denying the challenges RIM faces as they work their butts off to successfully bring BlackBerry 10 to market. He also took the CEO reigns while BlackBerry 10 development was already well underway. What if Heins' "laser focus" was in play as RIM acquired QNX? I have to believe things would be very different right now.

Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments! That's what WHAT IF posts are all about! 

Reader comments

WHAT IF Thorsten Heins had become BlackBerry CEO 3 Years Ago?


Sorry guys, but I believe your views are very short sighted. Look at all the pieces of the puzzle Mikey L was instrumental in paving the road for BB10, including QNX, Torch Mobile, Certicom, Docs To Go, TAT, Paratek, Gist, Dash Nav, etc.

A lot of thought went into finding these pieces and integrating them towards one vision. This didn't happen by accident, and many of those pieces are gems!

I don't even speak of some of the great partnerships they've created, plus going with Microsoft's ActiveSync.

Oh yeah, all this happened in the last three years.

Thorsten is a good leader and just want the company needed at this time, but don't forget who paved the way to make this possible. It also took guts for Mikey to step down as CEO, but Jim had to go and this was probably the best way to do it.


I often feel bad for Mike & Jim because they came up with the idea of QNX. They went out & found the pieces. Not to say Thorsein hasn't done a great job. He was the best person to execute mike's plan (better then J&M) but the game plan was already in place, thorsein is just executing it.

When BB10 comes out all 3 should be credited.
(Especially Mike & Thorsein)

I think he came in at the right time. He could have come ina month or 2 earlier but that's it.

Nah, I think the guy has the heart of a follower in him (notice the comments he made when he first came on board), he would have likely followed the main strategy that was laid out, but maybe he would have been more honest about the state of affairs at RIM.

I've worked at a couple of large companies that switched CEOs while I was there, let's just say that although small initiatives might change quickly enough, the overall strategy is like a huge ship: it takes quite a while to turn to a new direction, you can't simply stop at once and change course all of a sudden. Unless, of course, the CEOs sell off entire divisions...

i dont know if it would have been different... its not really a ceo that is responsible for how dev teams code and get things done but at the same time RIM never really had a full focus on what they wanted to do. Everyone at RIM when i was there was super excited knowin QNX was going to be the backend of the OS of new BlackBerry devices we also called the playbook an official BETA rather than a real device dont get me wrong i love mine to bits but its not what it was supposed to be and still kind of isnt.

Regardless its hard to see things would have changed unless the 6 day workweeks would be fully implemented at the get go on QNX and the upside of how things will turn out to be.

Maybe they would have skipped putting the playbook on the market (a distraction to deal with) and just finished the platform, then launched everything... new bb10 phones and tablets all at once?


I just wanted to say I love you Kevin!!!! BACK TO TOPIC: RIM wouldve still been in the same boat they in now why? Because you had individuals in key areas of the company that sat on they hands and watched the company fall apart and did nothing about it, the board just sat there living off the company past success with the likes of apple, google, palm, winmobile breathing down they neck. To think about it RIM wasn't ready to transition away from java to C+. Yes the old CEOS waited to long to pass the torch but how would we know if QNX would belong to RIM three years ago? All I can say is they made this transition at the last minute they'll make it but barely.

My opinion on this piece.

*sigh* soo jealous. Back to topic: I agree.. I think part of the promise comes from the fact that they acquired a company that gave them a basis to start their new operating system on and they also made the acquisitions for other companies such as paratek which will give them the ability to create their own attenae systems for global network use.. Thorsten or not, I think the issue was that the transition and integration was harder and took longer than they expected, but both M and J both were taking steps to put the company back in the right direction, just was a bigger job than they though.. who knows if Thor would have thought the same.. Hindsite is always 20/20.

Don't be jealous I love you too!!! The thing RIM and apple have in common is, both companies went out and bought outside talent that actually changed the mobile market well RIM they can change it if they stay focused.

the biggest mistake that RIM made with its playbook that they wanted to lunche it ASAP, so they announced about it and I really count it as Beta not finished and since that time everyone thinks playbook is stupid tablet even when they upgraded it to 2.0 OS !

what is good about Thorsten Heins that he didn't want to make the same mistake with BB10 so he delayed it to early 2013, which is good cuz he care about quality more than the time .

Mike and Jim were focusing on time I guess, they wanted everything quickly and thats why they had many problems with there devices like Bold 9900 and playbook !

I'm afraid that exactly the same will happen with the launch of BB10. It's a first release and there will be trade-offs and compromises. We all know that the product will not be fully finished with the release.

So BB10 will be years behind Android and iOS... Who is picking up this BB10 device when it's arriving? For sure it's not the current user base. Perhaps a couple of hundred-thousand CrackBerry addicts?

These sort of comments just drive me nuts.

Obviously there will be continual improvement to the OS - that's the nature of the game. No one launches a brand new system and says "That's it! We're done!"

With that said...

How do you come to the conclusion that BB10 will be 'years behind' the competition? It's being developed in parallel with the current iterations of Android and iOS, and the product is being held back until 2013 to make damned sure it's refined enough to compete.

Likewise: "For sure it's not the current user base". Why is it a given that every single BlackBerry user the world over will, upon realizing that a new generation of BlackBerry product is available, immediately switch to another platform?

There are 80 million BlackBerry users worldwide. It would be safe to say that more than "a couple hundred thousand" people will be transferring to BB10.

You have your opinions, fine. Stop stating them like gospel fact.

It took Apple over three years to create iOS. iOS and Android have been receiving updates over the past 5 years to make them the great OS's they are now.
RIM a much smaller company is about to take 2 years to build a new OS from scratch, and you expect it to compete. If they resort to copying, you can be assured that they'll find themselves spending all their money in court.
And now that BES isn't as secure as it used to be and works with other devices, they're going to lose the enterprises now.
And of course... Zero apps. lol

...your comment was shot in the first sentence...the difference from BB's new 'from scratch' OS10 and the other 'from scratches' is that OS10 is being built on an existing core, QNX...essentially they aren't starting from scratch as it were. So it is very possible to get it done. The other problem with your comment is they (BB) has 5 years to look around at the other guys...back when iOS came out, there wasn't a whole lot to reference on (and I don't mean copying). Enterprise will be fine, a lot of reports out there where companies find that BYOD isn't that great of a solution. With the new pplatform, some companies may find they go back (not to mention the possibility of employee conversions).

BlackBerry Torch 9860 BBOS 7.1
BlackBerry PlayBook O/S 2.xx.xxxx


1. RIM has already been making a mobile OS for a decade. This has a new platform (QNX) but there's an established feature list that provides a big leap over a company that had to figure out a mobile platform from the ground up. Try to keep in mind that iOS hasn't radically changed in the 5 years it's been out - each upgrade is just adding features that already existed on other platforms (including BB) for years before. Same argument applies for Android.

2. I shouldn't even have to address your BES comment, because it's clear you either didn't read the article posted here the other day or are just wilfully misinformed. Nothing has changed about the security features a BES provides. It's still a secure, outbound established tunnel straight to the NOC. The big difference is ActiveSync versus the old IMAP connection to Exchange.

2.5. Other devices can be managed through the new BES because RIM isn't stupid. It adds value to their product - they still make money on licenses if you're managing other devices through the solution - and it means that in a mixed environment (like so many companies are these days) there's a single, reliable hub to manage everything versus having to deploy multiple solutions. People quote Good as being a competitor - fine, I guess, if you want to log into a whole separate app every time you need to poll for and check your corporate mail.

3. Developers are on-board for BB10. I don't really know what else to tell you, except maybe stop flogging that dead horse.

Maybe we'd still have to wait for BB10 phones, but the app ecosystem would have been much richer (it was CEO's fault that RIM reacted so very late to enter Apple's game). I'd love to see a what if featuring Alec Saunders and see more about this issue.

About the stock that would be probably right, since Thor doesn't seem like the kind of guy that breaks promises (source of bad press, insert chain reaction here)

I wouldn't be sitting here using my awesome Bold 9900! I'm glad things didn't change before. People are fickle though, and that's why RIM is in trouble. I, along with many others, wanted a Bold 9000 form factor with a touchscreen and faster processor/more memory etc... RIM gave us exactly what I/we wanted and people still aren't happy...

I did want a BB phone but didn't want a Torch9800 that crashes and needs to be wiped every time I update an app. There are still many things wrong with the OS6/7 phones, least of which is they're in the dust of more advanced phones.

Many BB7 "problems" aren't problems. BB7 & BB6 is powerful enough for users to multitask but it will also let users run a bunch of apps in the background slowing down their device. BB7 & BB6 will also allow users to fill out all available RAM with apps -- that really causes the device to stall.

So, if you've got one of those devices, leave 100 MB RAM free on your device for your device to be happy, and please check what apps are running on your device regularly. Close and exit the apps you don't need.

You can check for running apps by holding down the BlackBerry button. You can check your free RAM by going to Options, selecting Device, and selecting Storage.

I'm not suggesting that BB6 & BB7 devices don't have problems, but users of those devices will be so much happier if they consider free RAM and what apps are running.

Always shut dowm apps I don't need. Never been below 150Mb RAM. Clear cache and other stuff constantly. There's no reason why an app like Cineplex, which has worked so well before, should cause my phone to reboot upon launch.

If its BlackBerry you like, then it doesn't get any better than the 9900. Its the perfect mix of form and function. And your right, its what everyone wanted. People get spoiled though, and always want something better. How long do you think most people use an app for before moving on? They really are quite overrated.

"People get spoiled though, and always want something better." yes. That's how humans advance.

Would you like to drive a 2002 car instead of 2012?

Just because you and a select few use only a few apps doesn't mean much beyond the fact that RIM's failure to keep up with the apmosphere failed on many levels.

RIMM:$7. AAPL: $660. Who's out of touch? I WANT to be spoiled! BB10 will kick all other operating systems square in the family jewels.

Innovate. Lead. Advance. Repeat.

Don't make me drag you off your high horse. You give BB users a bad name :P

I'm coming back when BB10 QWERTY devices launch though.

$7 a share for RIM stock is a joke considering Apple is at over $800 a share.
Playbook, the one and only

its not fair to ask this question, he may have done the same thing seeing as how he was brought in to make a change and 3 years ago RIM was still a major powerhouse not much change was totally needed. i also doubt the QNX aquisition would have come any sooner or the mistakes of unfinished software would have been made to correct

How about this what if, Thor would not have aguired gnx and focused on doing things in house. Where would Rim be now, further ahead or farther behind. Scary thought.

If only he'd been brought in 5 years ago...maybe the abomination that was the Storm wouldn't have made market, thus removing the focal point of every 'RIM is doomed' article written since then...

Too little too late, as usual. Yes I will buy the new BB10 phone, still a fan, but honestly, I feel the damage is already done to the future of Blackberry, people lost hope and faith over the last few years I don't think BB10 will be enough to sway already pesemistic people and the media talks and advertises nothing but how the iPhone is awesome. I see RIM being another company gone bust or a possible buyout 1 1/2 years after first BB10 device is released! Thornsten was needed years ago!!

When you have so little faith in something stay away from it. Stay far away. Don't buy it. Do not cross "Go". Do not collect $200. Sell your stuff and await the end of days. All is doooooomed....
Get a life.

The problem wouldn't have been fixed overnight. IMHO, we are behind in 2 areas and being one of the first out of the gate became a problem.

1. Carrier approved os updates. We all know how slow this is and it shows with the fragmented os. 7.0... 7.01234... 7.101234... 7.105425. Etc (as you can see is do not know the #### and am sure alot of people don't either). So many of us bb users resort to using official leaks if we know how to and average people do not want to (I do not want to if I had a choice)

2. Apps take for ever to load.. Feels like I am running a C64 (no offence it was good at the time in the 80s) The experience is just not there and will be always behind if the never rook the step to QNX.

Fast forward to almost launch.. Both are fixed with leaks showing up in the playbook. I have 2 playbooks, one running current and one running 2.1 dev. Even loading the dev 2.1 was a piece of cake.

My feeling is just with these 2 fixes will allow the common user to use it just for BBM,texting.. Improved apps :) and app experience. Mia bb users might want to come back since they already know blackberry.. ( I have tried my friends android for a week g3 but just can't get used to it)

I'm happy with my 9900 and hope Heins will have a few things up his sleeves to release so I can play with a new bb10 whenmy contract is up.

3 yrs earlier???? If he thought of qnx at that time then yes.. If no, unless there was another way to eliminate the 2 challenges.

The roadmap was wrong. Having the PB launch by itself was a mistake. I have always thought the current line of phones should have been the priority and launched first while designing the launch of BB10 products - phones and tablets. I really enjoy using my 9850. If it had been launch in place of the PB it would have been relative spec wise (as well as he 9930 etc). I'm all in and just waiting for BB10 phones to launch.

I love my Blackberry devices but articles like this drive me batty. Honestly sometimes it feels as if Kevin is a 13 year old girl with a crush on Justin Bieber. Come ON. Thorsten was the COO and WAS involved in setting and defining the strategy 3-4 years ago. He didn't buy QNX, TAT so can't get credit for that. A LOT of the product issues did occur on his patch. He is continuing with the strategy laid down by Mike and Jim.

He HAS accelerated the layoffs and has been more proactive (and believable) with the media but do any of you think Mike and Jim would have done much different? He gets credit HERE for delaying BB10 so it will be ready but the sad fact is that it wasn't going to make xmas anyway and any idiot knows that this is their absolute LAST chance to get it right.

Beyond engaging with our virtual prom queen first here and generally being more believable than Jim and Mike in front of the press, what has he done that they weren't already doing? His options are really limited until BB10 comes out. WE all know what he needs to do. He's not stupid... He's doing it, Lets not turn him into a saint just yet. He has to prove he can win by turning the ship around and regaining some market relevance.

Considering that a year ago they laid off 3,000 people to look good for investors, and then gradually filled those roles right back up...I gotta believe that Thorsten has a clearer mindset to streamlining this company.

I worked at RIM 2009-2012 and there really was a head-in-the-sand approach from everyone - Mike and Jim included - regarding what needed to happen for the company to continue being competitive. A whole lot of ideas were thrown at the wall, and whatever stuck tended to be poorly implemented and rushed out the gate - there were plenty of times when massive bugs were found the day after a launch.

The real test of Thorsten's ability to right this ship will be the actual launch of BB10 itself: how well developed it is and how well prepared everyone is to support and promote it.

T-dog doesn't seem like much of a risk taker. True, he could have prevented some of the truly stupid ideas and the company would be less bloated with more cash. He is a pragmatic guy guy who wants to deliver what is promised on time and under budget, not someone who would really push a company to move outside their comfort zone.

Three years ago RIM was printing money. It would be difficult for anyone to anticipate how quickly consumer preference would change. RIM never stopped innovating, it just turns out that people don't care much about call quality, security, battery life, efficiency and durability.

This is a very tough and relatively young industry. Not everyone can win. People are being a little too hard on Silly and Lazy.

The world needs BB10. All Apple and Android are everywhere and I really hate that.
BTW, History can not be hypothesized. But it is not too late if Heins can recover the BB world.

Can't speak to BB10 (frankly I don't think it really matters - BB7 could have quietly carved a niche if marketed well), but Jim Balsillie was no enterprise CEO.

He lost control of costs, allowed staffing levels to spiral out of control, and refused to accept the obvious with respect to competition. In the end his statements became a joke - he had completely lost credibility.

As a result RIM's costs increased while margins fell and the result was a share price crash.

Thorsten Heins on the other hand is to reduce costs by a billion dollars within a year. Painful for large numbers of employees, it's true, but essential if RIM is to recover.

And it will, because despite just about the worse mismanagement of a product launch in history, BB7 phones are still selling and the company will return to profitability. And if BB10 is a success, who knows, maybe RIM's share price will rise to a reasonable valuation.

Wrong Question Kevin. The Question is: What if Kevin Michaluk is the CEO of RIM 3 years ago.? Hehehe..

I can't blame him and Mike for hanging around....but if Thor wad king, things would have gone alot better but I still think we would be behind DROID and iClones.....

Most importantly, I wouldn't be rocking a BlackBerry, PlayBook, iClones and ipad...I'd only have 2 devices...guess which one!

The scariest thing about all of this is that the playbook is a qnx device and sales were not terribly well relative to other manufacturer's tablets. Hope the phones are different.

He would of done exactly what he is doing now talking about licensing and would be blasted to the point of resigning for the suggestion like the previous co-ceo's!

Am I right?!

RIM was reprobate to something public-authorities-like.... And Lazaridis and his hanger-on of royalty became fat, smugly and self-centered and changed Research in Motion to Research in Retirement... And the market redeemed it... History shows that German Leaders there only possible where misery dominates and orderliness awake;-)... So here... Heins leadership is provoked by the bad habits of Lazaradis... And not thinkable a year earlier...

Poor Kevin, trying his best to keep the members of the Crackberry Nation focused on Blackberry and BB10 . Strong allurements will appear in the form of iPhone 5, iPad mini, Samsung...., and it's at least 6-7 months until the release of BB 10 ! Good luck !

Two main conditions of your release from jail:

  1. Keep the peace and be of good behaviour
  2. Stay away from computers

You got released on a day pass and failed miserably. Back you go.

Ah, poor little perjade...still banging your cymbal and hoping against hope...born to follow...so sad!
Now, go tell Mommy you stole your ideas and give back her BlackBerry...

Thorsten Heins is doing a great job as CEO, although I'm not sure he would have taken the same approach if he had gotten on board 3 years ago. All I know is I try to live in the present and instead of looking back I look into the near future. RIM and Thor are taking the company through the 5S. The only reason RIM doesn't make it will be because of the negativity from media and individuals speaking bad mannered hate.

Hate the game not the player.

CrackBerry Is My Choice Of Drug

Thorsten is doing a great job? Are you serious?
The guy's a whimp and has not shown any vision.

He says he all about execution but he failed to deliver on his promise of bringing us a BB10 phone by the end of 2012.

He has no idea how much shit the company is in and he keeps
on as if everything is ok. The BB10 phone he's showing around now will be dead on arrival and he doesn't even know it. The mass population doesn't give a damn about what OS is running on the device if it just looks like a boring black slab. He's got months to correct this and what does he do? nothing.

He says idiotic things that causes everybody jump to the wrong conclusion and freak out, and then have to make additional statements later on to stem the panic he caused because he doesn't know how to communicate properly.

Mike's personality and clout with the board and all the old-timers within the company that it will suffocate any chance of Thorstein being an effective leader. Mike had to go if Jim had to go.

If that happened, BlackBerry 10 would have been everywhere you look. It would have become a great success because of BlackBerry's huge market share at the time.