RIM COO retires as company lays off one-tenth of staff

The BlackBerry maker will lay off 2,000 of its 19,000 staff as part of a cost-reduction program

Research in Motion will lay off 2,000 staff, or a little more than 10 percent of its workforce, and make changes to its senior management team, it announced Monday. Don Morrison, the COO for the BlackBerry business, will retire, but co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis will continue to share the CEO role and that of chairman.

The layoffs will happen this week in the United States, while in other countries there may be a delay to comply with local employment laws, RIM said.

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The job cuts will leave RIM with 17,000 staff. Just five years ago, the company had around 5,000 staff, it said.

The company will disclose one-time charges associated with the layoffs when it publishes results for its fiscal second quarter on Sept. 15.

Morrison is on temporary medical leave and will retire without returning to the company. The management changes are largely to cover for his departure.

His role will be split in two: Thorsten Heins will become COO of product and sales, adding sales and new engineering responsibilities to his portfolio. Previously in charge of the BlackBerry smartphone portfolio, he will take on responsibility for all hardware and software product engineering functions. Jim Rowan will become COO of operations, adding organizational development and facilities management functions to his existing responsibilities for manufacturing, global supply chain and repair services.

CIO Robin Bienfait and CTO David Yach will also take on additional responsibilities, while Patrick Spence will become managing director for global sales and regional marketing, reporting to Heins.

Two senior staff untouched by the reshuffle are co-CEOs Balsillie and Lazaridis, who also share the role of chairman. This is despite calls from shareholder groups for more clarity in the roles of the co-CEOs and the appointment of an independent chairman.

RIM made a small concession to these shareholder groups on June 30, agreeing to create a committee of independent directors to propose a recommended governance structure for the company. In return, shareholder Northwest & Ethical Investments agreed to withdraw a proposal to divide the role of chairman and CEO. As a result, RIM was spared an embarrassing vote at its June 12 shareholder meeting.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for the IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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