RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) today held its first official call in the wake of the news last night that it had decided to appoint a new CEO, Thorsten Heins, with its co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis resigning from their joint position in the role.
Barbara Stymiest, the new chairwoman of RIM’s board — who replaced Balsille and Lazaridis in that role — kicked off the call with a lot of praise for the outgoing CEOs. She also noted that the board “unanimously” voted Heins into the position.
In some brief remarks before analysts lodged into their questions, Heins — who has been with RIM since 2007 and most recently had been COO of its product engineering group overseeing the smartphone portfolio — said that the company is in the process of recruiting a new Chief Marketing Officer, among others, to get the company back on track. The CMO he said, is a role they hope to fill “as soon as possible.”
But it’s not just about image management: Heins seems to have an inclination to shake things up a bit, too: he noted the company will start to take more “appropriate risks,” with his support, to get back on track. Although later in the call he also noted that he didn’t see the need for any major changes, so it’s not clear how far, exactly, any shake-ups would go.
First question is about next steps: Market communications are a priority, said Heins, pointing again to the company’s search for a new CMO. Although the U.S. remains the company’s single biggest market, it has taken a hammering in the last several years from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and its iPhone, as well as an onslaught of device makers building on Google’s Android platform.
It’s not too surprising, then, that Heins chose to highlight growth outside the U.S. in the call. But in doing so, he also touched on a significant challenge for RIM: in the U.S., he said, the view is still skewed to RIM being an enterprise company. A lot of RIM’s growth is coming from consumers outside of the U.S., he noted — but that implies, in another way, that this is fundamentally not the demographic where RIM is picking up new business in its core market. As smartphones continue to become more and more mainstream, that’s becoming a more urgent issue for the company.
Heins also acknowledged that RIM has not been good at managing the process of launching new products, sending them into the market before they were ready — an issue that the previous CEOs also admitted was one of the big failings of the PlayBook tablet. These initially shipped without direct e-mail and other BlackBerry service support:
“RIM has gone through a tremendous growth phase, but we innovated while we were developing the product, and that needs to stop,” he said.
On the low end of the market, and low price points in developing markets where RIM is growing: will there be more cheap devices up ahead to take advantage that?
No, is the short answer: “We are not going into feature phones or further [drive] down the capacities of the phone,” he said, but he did seem to imply that there was a place for perhaps making lower-end smartphones. “It’s important to understand there are still a lot of feature phones out there…[there's] a huge potential to move from feature to smartphones…[but] users don’t jump straight from feature phones to smartphones, they need a good landing experience. Part of our intention is to be very strong in on-boarding.”
A question on QNX (the platform on which RIM’s PlayBook tablet is built): Is it a “me-too” platform, trying to follow what others have already achieved? “QNX is not in the catch-up race,” he countered. “We worked with the team from QNX [which it acquired], and I have all confidence in it” being a core of BlackBerry 10 and powering the devices of tomorrow.
On vertical businesses: This is an area where RIM plans to continue to exist — that is, no plans for selling off divisions for now. That’s the Apple model coming through again.
“I have been in device-only businesses before [he comes from Siemens] and I know what it means to be in that segment. It is cut-throat,” he said. “We are strong because we have an integrated solution.” He mentions the enterprise business, the OS, the devices, the consumers: “I will not split this or separate this into [individual] businesses.”
However he also says that there may be licensing to come:
“If there are requests coming in to license our platform I will entertain those requests if it makes sense to follow that path, I will make that decision with the board,” he said. “There are not that many companies out there that have what we have. [RIM] is a strong asset.”
Heins is German and he rounded off the call with a little joke related to this: Being the German that I am, he said, “I like process-driven businesses.” Perhaps a little laughter now, but Heins still has some serious work ahead to turn RIM’s fortunes around and make the company a bit more nimble to changes before shareholders and others lose more patience.