RIM Chief Vows Turnaround for Struggling BlackBerry Maker


Research In Motion Ltd's new CEO vowed on Tuesday to turn around the embattled company with a new generation of Bl ackBerry de vices to be launched ne xt year as he tr ansforms R I M into a "lean, mean, hunting machine."

Thorsten Heins, presiding over his first annual meeting since being named chief executive in January, faces a formidable battle to put the embattled smartphone maker back on track after a share-price swoon that has wiped away 80 percent of its market capitalization.

Sounding contrite, Heins acknowledged grumbles about the company's performance and shareholder frustration with the delay in 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 said to a mostly subdued audience in Waterloo, Ontario, RIM's home city. "Many of you are frustrated with the time it has taken us to make our way through the transition."

RIM virtually invented mobile email with its first BlackBerry devices more than a decade ago, b ut the BlackBerry's market share has evaporated as consumers flock to Apple Inc's iPhone and devices based on Google Inc's Android system.

The stock slipped 5 percent to $7.29 on Nasdau a s investors digested news from the annual meeting.

RIM, which says it is examining all options, including partnerships, joint ventures or even the outright sale of the company, is pinning its hopes on a new line of devices that will run on a new operating system - BlackBerry 10.

Heins, who joined RIM from electronics giant Siemens AG and took over as CEO in January, expressed confidence that RIM was heading in the right direction un der his new management.

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

RIM last month posted its first operating loss in eight years and 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 company pushed back the launch of the BlackBerry 10 devices to next year from the final quarter of this year. Heins said the delay r eflected RIM's determination to make sure that the devices were ready for the big time.


The annual meeting produced little in the way of fireworks from shareholders and few direct questions about how the company got itself into its current mess.

"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 Jaguar Financial CEO Vic Alboini, who says he speaks for an ad-hoc alliance of disgruntled RIM investors. "Where are we then?"

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

The company might be able to provide concrete answers to its investors on the outcome of the strategic review process "in a few months," the chief executive told reporters.

"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."

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.


Despite RIM's recent performance, the company's slate of directors was elected at the meeting with token opposition, although preliminary results showed a number of shareholder votes were withheld, including 19 percent for former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.

John Richardson had 30 percent 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 back-dated over an eight-year period.

Barbara Stymiest, the board chair, fielded a number of shareholder queries a bout h ow directors have performed. She ex pressed her confidence in her colleagues and po inted out t h at four of the bo ard's 10 members ha ve joined in the last year.

" T hat's a huge amount of change and part of the dynamic in managing any board is managing smooth transitions," she said, adding that RIM would co nsider a dding new di rectors.