RIM shares fall after CEO shakeup
Top executives Lazaridis, Balsillie say it's time to 'pass the baton'
- 'I don't think there is a drastic change needed,' new CEO says
- Stock moves lower in reaction to news
- Fairfax Financial's Prem Watsa joins RIM board
Investors pushed Research In Motion shares down more than nine per cent Monday after the founders of the technology company stepped down and a new CEO was named from within the executive ranks.
RIM's former COO Thorsten Heins assumed the top job over the weekend, and on a conference call with analysts on Monday, said he wants the company to focus more on the consumer market.
"I don't think that there is a drastic change needed," Heins said.
"I want us to have a bit more of an ear toward the consumer market and understand trends — and not just do what the Street is telling [us]."
Heins took over the reins for Research In Motion from co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis after the latter two suddenly resigned as CEOs from the Waterloo, Ont.-based firm they built into what was once Canada's largest company.
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Investors appeared underwhelmed by the move. RIM shares closed down 9.1 per cent at $15.67 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
"The market is voting with its feet," said Vic Alboini, president of Jaguar Financial Corp. in Toronto, which has been pushing for a change in the board structure for several months.
Alboini, one of a group of shareholders that collectively own more than 10 per cent of RIM's stock, said the change in CEO doesn't go far enough. He repeated his call for a complete strategic review that would consider every option, including a sale of part of the company.
"Overall the news is negative, unfortunately, because they're keeping the two co-CEOs on the board," Alboini said.
"The last thing you want to do is surround a new CEO from whom you want fresh thinking, independent initiatives ... with the history of RIM captured in the two co-founders sitting at the boardroom table."
Alboini, who has been among RIM's most vocal and influential critics, called the new CEO and board members a "transitional team," saying they will have only months to bring about needed results.
RIM has faced intense pressure from shareholders for months to change its management structure amid concerns the company is unable to compete with rivals including Apple Inc. and Google Inc. The co-founders were initially dismissive of the iPhone from the moment it launched in 2007, choosing to focus on their traditional core business customers instead of what was popular with consumers.
That strategy has resulted in RIM's stock price and market share dwindling over the years, as more and more customers switch to other devices.
Northern Securities analyst Sameet Kanade called the move "a nice first step," but said it's not a cure-all for what's been ailing RIM shares of late. "Heins is perhaps the best solution for now, but let's see what he can deliver this year," Kanade said.
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.
"My first reaction is it's positive, but then you read the fine print and you get the sense that things will stay the same," Kanade said. "The main headline is: Watch and wait."
Heins was named chief executive officer on the advice of the co-founders.
"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 in a release. "Jim and I went to the board and told them that we thought that time was now."
The company says Lazaridis will become 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 in an undefined role.
"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."
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.
He said Monday he will make assigning a new head to the company's marketing unit his top priority. "That's an element we need to strengthen and build," he said. "I want us to have a bit more of an ear to the consumer market, understanding trends, and not just listening to what [Bay] street is telling you."
"We need to do a better job on that," Heins said.
Although the departing co-CEOs were the visionaries behind the iconic BlackBerry, the new CEO Heins is held in high regard for his skill in operational matters. The company's current marketing strategy is largely built on the company's next generation operating system, BlackBerry 10, which is expected to launch later this year. RIM is banking on that platform to turn around the company's fortunes.
"I don't think there is a drastic change needed," Heins said. "We are evolving."
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.
"It's good to have Prem Watsa onside," Kanade said. Watsa runs Fairfax Financial, which with almost 12 million shares, is the second-largest holder of RIM stock outside the two founders. "[Watsa] knows how it works, so he doesn't want too many changes at the same time," Kanade said.
CBC News business commentator Kevin O'Leary said he expects the new board will give Heins about a year to show results, at which point they may turn to someone new. "At the board level, this forces the debate on what to do next," he said.
"As an investor … I'd say to myself this can only result in better times ahead."
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.