Cutting Room: RIM reshuffle fans talk of takeover


Jasper Jackson reckons the appointment of Thorsten Heins as RIM’s new CEO will only intensify speculation of a sale of the company

The resignation of Research In Motion co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis was no great surprise and a long time coming.

Investors have for years been clamouring for a change in the firm’s unusual management structure, which saw Balsillie (pictured left) and Lazaridis (pictured right) share not only the CEO position, but also the chairman post that is meant to act as a counterweight to the power of a firm’s head honcho.

While RIM enjoyed the good times, the dominance of Balsillie and RIM founder Lazaridis wasn’t a problem.

But as RIM failed to deal with the growth of the consumer smartphone market driven by Apple and now firms using Google’s Android operating system, not to mention its disastrous data outage in October, their grip on the company became intolerable.

Balsillie and Lazaridis realised the smartphone market was changing, but the devices RIM produced to appeal to consumers simply didn’t measure up.

The firm never moved far enough or fast enough from its roots to fully embrace the new smartphone ideal defined by the iPhone. Apart from a degree of popularity among cash-strapped teenagers, it never caught the imagination of the growing consumer market.

Of course, BlackBerrys still rule the roost in business. BlackBerry Enterprise Server is the default choice for IT departments wanting to make sure they have a handle on a workforce’s mobile communications, and many business users still prefer aBlackBerry keyboard.

Yet where once a BlackBerry was the status symbol of the high-powered exec, increasingly it has become a necessary evil for workers who would rather be enjoying the more user-friendly experience they get on their own handsets produced by the likes of Apple or HTC.

Those workers are now asking why they can’t use their own devices at work, and firms are developing software that enables companies to feel safe letting them do so, undermining the BlackBerry’s USP in the business market.

RIM’s announcement that its forthcoming successor to BlackBerry Enterprise Server, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, will provide mobile device management for Android and iOS devices, was essentially an admission that the o ce of the future won’t be dominated by the BlackBerry.

RIM’s difficult position has not gone unnoticed by the markets and the firm’s share price has collapsed, falling around 75 per cent in 2011 alone.

BlackBerry’s woes have driven speculation that RIM would sell up to a competitor, and the fact that the firm’s chief operating officer Thorsten Heins has taken over, rather than a hotshot from outside the company, is only likely to encourage expectations of a fire sale.

Amazon reportedly walked away from a deal to acquire RIM last year and both Nokia and Microsoft have been linked with a potential acquisition. In the past two weeks, it has been suggested that Samsung is considering buying the firm.

Samsung has the scale and cash to pick up RIM. At £133 billion Samsung’s total worth is more than 13 times RIM’s. There are also a couple of reasons why Samsung might be inclined to do so.

RIM’s new QNX-based OS is one of just a couple of operating systems that are advanced enough for a player like Samsung to consider adopting.

The new BlackBerry OS would reduce Samsung’s reliance on Android and Windows and, more importantly, give Samsung complete control over its platform and ecosystem.

This would theoretically enable it to compete on a level playing field with Apple and iOS.

Acquiring RIM would also provide a direct route into the business market that has so far eluded Samsung.

With the BlackBerry name and RIM know-how, many businesses might feel confident placing a degree of trust in Samsung that they wouldn’t give to anyone else.

Samsung has inevitably denied it is interested in RIM, and Heins has moved to dampen rumours of any sale.

But without a serious change of direction, RIM will never regain the initiative over its rivals and its share price will keep tumbling.