Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the co-chief executives of Research In Motion Ltd., have stepped down as heads of the Waterloo, Ont.-based technology company.

According to a news release issued Sunday, RIM's board of directors unanimously named former chief operating officer Thorsten Heins as president and CEO on the advice of Balsillie and Lazaridis.

"There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership," Lazaridis said. "Jim and I went to the board and told them that we thought that time was now."

RIM has faced intense pressure from shareholders for months to change its management structure amid concerns the company is unable to compete with rivals Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

'I am so confident in RIM's future that I intend to purchase an additional $50 million of the company's shares.' —Former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis

The company, maker of the BlackBerry series of smartphones and tablets, was the most valuable company in Canada as recently as 2008 when its stock reached $148, but after a series of missteps the company has seen its share of the smartphone market dwindle. The share price closed on Friday at $17.24.

According to the company, Lazaridis is now the vice-chair of the company's board of directors as well as chair of its new innovation committee.

Balsillie will remain a member of RIM's board of directors.

"I agree this is the right time to pass the baton to new leadership, and I have complete confidence in Thorsten, the management team and the company," Balsillie said. "I remain a significant shareholder and a director and, of course, they will have my full support."

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Thorsten Heins, who joined Research In Motion four years ago, was named CEO and president of the technology company. (Research In Motion/Canadian Press)

Heins joined RIM four years ago from Siemens AG, becoming a senior vice-president. He was appointed chief operating officer for product and sales in August 2011.

Lazaridis said Heins has the right mix of leadership, industry experience and skills to take the company forward.

"We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens," he said. "I am so confident in RIM's future that I intend to purchase an additional $50 million of the company's shares, as permitted, in the open market."

Among other changes at the top of RIM, current director and former Toronto Stock Exchange CEO Barbara Stymiest will become independent board chair and Fairfax Financial Holdings CEO Prem Watsa will join the board.

Big slide in 2011

Balsillie and Lazaridis, who shared the CEO and chair titles, have headed RIM together for the past two decades.

The company took a big slide in 2011, dropping behind its peers in the lightning-paced smartphone market, suffering through the worst service outage in its history and losing tens of billions of dollars in market value.

And the PlayBook tablet, RIM's answer to the Apple iPad, failed to gain consumer support and the company was forced to offer deep discounts to help move the devices off store shelves.

The company announced that it will take a $485-million US charge before tax on the cost of discounting the price of its PlayBook tablet and $50 million in lost revenues from an October service outage that affected millions of BlackBerry email and text users. It was forced to cut 2,000 jobs to keep costs in line.

In December, RIM reported third-quarter net profits of $265 million US, well below the $911 million for the same period a year before. That came despite the sale of millions more BlackBerrys than in 2010 and a 35 per cent rise in global subscribers to 75 million.

Many investors held Balsillie and Lazaridis responsible for the company's problems and previously called for them to be replaced and also for the company to be sold or broken up.

With files from The Canadian Press