Cutting Room: when CEOs think they are rock stars


Company bosses are going all-out to impress audiences with their charismatic approach to product launches, but as Ian White argues, it doesn’t always work out for the best

Steve Jobs, if he was alive today, would have a lot to answer for.

Ever since the Apple founder transformed product launches and keynote speeches into rock concerts, every charisma-free telco executive worth his share options has attempted the same Jobsian shtick, complete with clapping-on-cue from stooges planted in the audience.

Unfortunately, the result is always more Max Bygraves than Bruce Springsteen.

Take BlackBerry’s (as we must now call the company once known as RIM) international launch of BlackBerry 10 on January 30.

Many thousands of dollars must have been spent on the launch, with pundits calling it the last throw of the dice for BlackBerry.

Clearly BlackBerry was going all out for a simultaneous global launch. So who fronted the vital show – Billy Crystal, Seth McFarlane, Jerry Seinfeld? Step forward that world famous raconteur, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins (pictured left).

Now, Herr Heins is a brilliant technology executive but you wouldn’t normally hire him as a party compere or stand-up comedian, or let him anywhere near the stage of a vital launch watched by the public and mainstream media.

Thorsten is a man of many talents. But a keen sense of comic timing and charisma are not necessarily among them.

And nor should they be. He doesn’t get paid to crack wise and whip up an audience of nerds and cynical hacks.

Heins can undoubtedly electrify a Mobile World Congress keynote crowd with techno-gibberish (“hyperconnected multi-taskers”) and PR platitudes (“today represents a new day in the history of BlackBerry”).

But his 50 shades of grey, metrosexual, Euro geek persona is not the neon-lit pizzazz you need when you’re drinking in the Last Chance Saloon and must excite the international mainstream media.

Wheeling on multi-millionairess and uber-tweeter Alicia Keys pretending to be a BlackBerry employee was a cute stunt. But it was only ever going to fool some of the people some of the time.

Thorsten shouldn’t feel too bad that his 90-minute presentation had many in the audience in the hall and watching online counting sheep.

To really appreciate the kind of car crash that can occur when a company thinks it has rock stars for CEOs, look no further than the train wreck of Qualcomm’s event at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, presided over by Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs and Microsoft’s Steve ‘Monkey Dance’ Ballmer.

Swivel-eyed turn

Jacobs proved that watching paint dry is not necessarily the most boring thing to do, while Ballmer (pictured right) secured his place in the Overacting Hall of Fame for the best swivel-eyed performance since Al Pacino’s nut job salesman in  Glengarry Glen Ross (think random shouting, unexpected pauses, and psychotic stares).

Not since the ‘Springtime for Hitler’ number from the Mel Brooks comedy classic  The Producers have so many jaws dropped in sync.

The Steve ’n’ Paul show has now earned its place in the firmament of ridiculous corporate presentations and is now known as ‘The Most Insane Keynote Ever’.

It is difficult to comprehend why two millionaire captains of industry agreed to humiliate themselves so comprehensively.

Fortunately, there is no need for me to scour the thesaurus for synonyms for ‘awful’ – the entire mess has been enshrined in all its HD horror on YouTube.

Type ‘’ into your browser, move the time bar to 1.00 and let a tsunami of embarrassment wash you away.

It will help you overpower the egocentric little devil in your head that insists you are the ideal front man for the launch of your Next Big Thing.