RIM co-CEOs resign, new CEO to stay the course

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie step aside after a long slide in the BlackBerry maker's stock value, market share

Research in Motion's co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have quit after a tumultuous period at the company, which saw intense competition, declining sales, a failed tablet debut, and a long services outage at the maker of the BlackBerry over the last two years. The company is in the midst of replacing its BlackBerry operating system and product line with a new platform based on the QNX operating system it acquired in 2010. The first "BlackBerry reboot" products are due in late 2012.

An insider, COO Thorsten Heins, has taken charge as president and CEO, to implement the succession plan previously submitted to the board by the former co-CEOs, RIM said in a statement late Sunday. Heins joined RIM from Siemens Communications Group in December 2007 as senior vice president for hardware engineering and became COO for product and sales in August 2011.

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Heins told the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper that he intended to pursue the strategy set by Balsillie and Lazarids, including the move to a new BlackBerry patform. He also said he would be open to licensing that platform to other device makers. In a statement published by RIM, Heins said, "It is Mike [Lazaridis's and Balsillie's] continued unwillingness to sacrifice long-term value for short-term gain which has made RIM the great company that it is today. I share that philosophy and am very excited about the company's future." At a press conference the following morning, he said RIM would focus on consumers, which has been its stated strategy for several years, during which time RIM has tried to entice gaming and other application developers and promote its scoial networking capabilities.

Lazaridis and Balsillie have also quit their positions as co-chairmen; director Barbara Stymiest takes over as the new chairman. Lazaridis, a founder of the company, will become vice chairman, and Balsillie will remain a board member. Lazaridis will also chair a newly created "Innovation Committee," and will work closely with the new CEO to offer strategic counsel, provide a smooth transition, and continue to promote the BlackBerry brand worldwide, RIM said.

Lazaridis and Balsillie have been under pressure to quit from investors for some time. Analysts and some RIM employees have faulted Lazaridis and Balsillie for RIM's decline, blaming them for not taking Apple's iPhone seriously since its 2007 debut nor enabling the company to rethink its dependence on its historic security and data compression strengths in the face of the iPhone's success and the later, greater success of Google's Android. Several sources with contacts at RIM have told InfoWorld that RIM employees often found resistance to reinventing the BlackBerry from the company's senior management, including the two former co-CEOs. The result has been a series of minor BlackBerry upgrades and the failed, BlackBerry-dependent PlayBook tablet.

The BlackBerry has long been liked by IT organizations due to its high degree of security and management controls, but users have preferred the applications orientation of the iPhone and Android platforms, as well as their greater ease of use. The BlackBerry's slide began serious acceleration after Apple introduced iOS 4 in July 2010, which brought a set of security and management capabilities that IT found it could live with, ending the major objection to remaining "BlackBerry shops." With these capabiltiies in place, it took just 18 months for most organizations to have adopted iPhones and other non-BlackBerry devices in what is called the bring your own device (BYOD) phenpmenon.

InfoWorld Executive Editor Galen Gruman contributed to this report.

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