On November 4th, BlackBerry's board of directors made a shocking announcement. The company was officially ending its strategic review and eliminating the plan to go private. Instead they raised $1 billion in convertible debt, fired Thorsten Heins as CEO and brought in a guy named John Chen who was new to CrackBerry readers, but very experienced at technology turnarounds.
The financing closed on November 13th, which marked the first day on the job for the new BlackBerry boss. It has been just over six months since then. When you look at announcements (press releases) individually, it doesn't seem like much. But when you look at the collection of changes Chen had his hands I think you begin to see just how much work there was to be done.
Here's a list of what stands out the most when I look back.
November 25th, 2013: It took Chen just 12 days on the job, or three weeks since he knew he'd be in the CEO seat, to determine that his current C-level team was not right for the job. They dumped Kristian Tear and Frank Boulden from their respective COO and CMO jobs. Roger Martin also left the company's board of directors. Remember him? It doesn't surprise me that Chen didn't see a place for these folks given his forward looking vision.
December 17th, 2013: John Chen's first hire is a former colleagues, John Sims, who will run the enterprise business. It's clear just how vital Chen sees the enterprise business to BlackBerry's future, and he wastes no time in putting in a known (to him) leader.
December 18th, 2013: John Chen continues his rapid-fire new hire process with two new executives. Both gentlemen take EVP titles to handle corporate development & strategic planning (James Mackey) and marketing (Mark Wilson).
December 20th, 2013: BlackBerry reports Q3 results where Chen announces a 5-year joint venture with Foxconn, the Asian design and manufacturing giant, so that BlackBerry can better control its cost structure, inventory, and offer lower-cost devices for emerging markets.
January 6th, 2014: With a new plan in place to design and build hardware both internally and with Foxconn, Chen wastes no time in hiring a new leader for the device business. This man, Ron Louks, is the former CTO of Sony Erickson and the former chief strategy officer for HTC America.
January 13th, 2014: It seems there is no stopping John Chen as he builds a brand new management team. Eric Johnson is hired as the new global head of sales. The changes Chen implements result in long-time BlackBerry executives Rick Costanzo (sales) and Chris Wormald (business development) to move on.
February 2014: With Chen's new team in place, the real work begins. On Feb 25th BlackBerry announced the upcoming Q20 "classic" which tells us that Chen's new team listens to what customers want. On the enterprise side, that same day, BES 12 was announced, which gives IT managers some of what they've been asking for including the EZ Pass migration plan and new pricing for BES 10 licenses.
April 1st, 2014: BlackBerry severs ties with T-Mobile USA. Chen later commented on how T-Mobile clearly has a consumer focus, which doesn't align with BlackBerry's enterprise focus.
April 15th, 2014: BlackBerry makes an investment in NANTHEALTH, demonstrating (in part) how Chen sees BlackBerry playing in regulated and security-dependent markets including healthcare, government, financial services and legal.
May 13, 2014: BlackBerry officially announces plans to allow other MDM platform makers to support their hardware. It's clear that Chen's new team believes that MDM capabilities will become a commodity, and BlackBerry needs to offer value far beyond the basics.
May 14, 2014: The first Foxconn-designed device, the Z3 (Jakarta), is unveiled in Indonesia at a price of about US $189.
May 21, 2014: Project Ion is announced: This is likely a project that was started back when Mike Lazaridis still had an active role, and perhaps was not a major priority in the first months of Chen's leadership since there was so much more pressing work to be done. Yet we're still curious how BlackBerry fits into the world of the "Internet of Things"
As you can see, it's been a very busy six months for John Chen, with an early focus on rebuilding his management team and offloading much of the device building responsibility to Foxconn. From there the effort shifted very quickly towards servicing enterprise customers.
While I'm certainly encouraged by the amount of change that he's led the company through in his first six months, it's still too early to judge him on results. We need to see how the new BES rollout goes later this year. We need to see BlackBerry generate meaningful growth in software and service revenue.
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