CEO vows to turn RIM into “lean, mean machine”


WATERLOO (Ontario): Research In Motion Ltd’s new CEO has vowed to turn around the embattled company with the new generation of BlackBerry devices coming next year, saying he would transform RIM into a “lean, mean, hunting machine.”

But Thorsten Heins, presiding over his first annual meeting since taking the helm, offered little to disgruntled shareholders beyond his faith in the power of the BlackBerry 10 line to reverse RIM’s fortunes. Its battered stock fell another 5% after he spoke on Tuesday.

“There was no mention of a sale of the company, no mention of a breakup of the company, and again, our big, big concern is if the BB10s are a dud,” said Vic Alboini, chief executive of Jaguar Financial and a long-time RIM critic. “Where are we then?”

After a year that wiped out nearly 80% of RIM’s value, Heins acknowledged the frustration of shareholders with his decision to delay the launch of the new phones until after the crucial holiday shopping season.

“I am not satisfied with the performance of the company over the past year,” Heins told the mostly subdued audience. “Many of you are frustrated with the time it has taken us to make our way through the transition.”

But Heins, who joined RIM from electronics giant Siemens AG four year ago and took over as CEO in January, expressed confidence that RIM was heading in the right direction.

“I have assembled a leadership team for RIM that’s truly capable of taking us into future,” he told shareholders.

RIM virtually invented mobile e-mail with its first BlackBerry devices more than a decade ago, but its market share has evaporated as consumers flock to Apple Inc’s iPhone and devices based on Google Inc’s Android system.

RIM last month posted its first operating loss in eight years, and it was much deeper than expected. The company also said it was cutting 5,000 jobs, almost a third of its workforce, as it struggles win back its reputation as an industry innovator.

At the same time the company pushed back the launch of the BlackBerry 10 devices to next year from the final quarter of this year. Heins said the delay reflected RIM’s determination to make sure that the devices were ready for the big time.

“We’re working day and night to bring it out and prove the point that it is what we say it is,” he told reporters after the meeting.

RIM plans to prune down its extensive array of BlackBerry models to focus on high-end and mid-range devices that will come with either touchscreen or physical keyboards, Heins said.

But things will probably get worse before they get better. Heins conceded that RIM would likely suffer lower average selling prices and declining service revenue this year as it pushes to sell existing BlackBerry devices.

Tame audience

Despite the deep problems, investors who attended the meeting in a university lecture hall in RIM’s hometown of Waterloo, Ontario, avoided many of the tougher questions that analysts have thrown at the BlackBerry maker.

One shareholder blasted earlier versions of the board which he said had failed to keep management accountable, while another poked around the details of the CEO’s compensation package.

Throughout the session Heins was adamant that RIM’s best path forward was the BlackBerry 10, even if the strategic review now underway concludes that a sale of the company makes the most sense. RIM has said it is examining all options, including partnerships, joint ventures or a break-up of the company.

RIM might be able to provide more about on the outcome of the strategic review in a few months, Heins told a handful of reporters after the meeting.

“There is a lot of action going on, looking at very different options for what the company could do,” he said. “When it’s time to go public with it, we’ll go public with it.”

Keeping faith

The stock, which slipped 5% to us$7.29 (RM21.87) on Nasdaq, once traded as high as US$148.13 (RM444.39), and several small investors told Reuters they were confident RIM could regain at least some of its past glory in the next two or three years.

“They’re in survival mode, but if they survive their business will go right back to, in my view, the levels above US$60 (RM180),” said Ted Cross, a retired 76-year-old who bought his shares in the high US$20 (RM60) range. “I’m confident the company will survive and thrive.”

One of the few dissenting voices in the hall came from Jaguar Financial’s Alboini, who says he speaks for an informal alliance of disgruntled RIM investors. He asked what steps RIM was taking to attract more new board members with technology and financial industry experience.

Chairman Barbara Stymiest said the company aimed to add several new members to the board this year and hired an external firm to assess candidates. She pointed out that four of the board’s 10 members have joined in the last year.

Despite RIM’s recent performance, the company’s slate of directors was elected at the meeting with token opposition, although preliminary results showed some shareholders withheld their votes, including 19% for former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.

John Richardson had 30% of votes withheld, following the recommendation of proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis. It said Richardson, as lead director, had failed to properly oversee the provision of stock options to RIM employees, which were erroneously backdated over an eight-year period. — Reuters

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