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 ...
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