Technology & Science·Analysis

What experts say about RIM's change at the top

Research in Motion now has a new chief executive officer, Thorsten Heins, and a new chairwoman, Barb Stymiest. Some investors and analysts had been advocating a change at the top, but what do they make of the latest developments?

What analysts are saying today about Research in Motion

Investors and analysts had been advocating a change at the top of Research in Motion  but after Sunday's leadership shakeup the company's stock price took a big dive.

RIM now has a new chief executive officer, Thorsten Heins, and a new chairwoman, Barb Stymiest. Until now RIM had two CEOs and two chairmen, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

Many analysts viewed the leadership structure as a source of RIM's current problems and before the markets opened, a number of them saw the change as positive .

"Investors may view these developments as a positive step near-term," according to Mike Abramsky of RBC Capital Markets.

"It's a decent first step," Sameet Kanade, technology analyst for Northern Securities in Toronto, told CBC News.

When the North American markets opened, RIM's share price was down about five per cent. The price continued to drop and spent most of the morning down about six per cent.

For Kanade, the main headline is "watch and wait." He qualified his initially positive reaction by noting that, "you read the fine print and you get the sense that things will stay the same."

RIM's former co-CEOs and co-chairmen, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, remain on the board, Lazaridis as vice chairman. Between them, they own 10 per cent of RIM's shares.

Differing views on the new CEO

Research in Motion hopes to recover from the 75 per cent slide in its stock price in 2011 with new CEO, Thorsten Heins, hown in a photo released by Research in Motion on Jan. 23. (Research in Motion/Canadian Press)
The new CEO, Thorsten Heins, 54, is a RIM insider, having moved up from his job as chief operating officer (COO). He has been with RIM since December 2007, following 23 years with the German industrial conglomerate Siemens. In a research note, Abramsky cautions that Heins "lacks deep consumer marketing and software experience," and this will be his first time as the CEO of a company.

As Queen’s University business professor John Pliniussen argues, "It’s the right move, but the wrong guy."

Heins ran all of RIM's product groups and the sales group before moving into the CEO's office. His recent responsibilities include the new Blackberry operating system and the new version of their tablet, Playbook 2.0.

He views Heins as "part of the reason behind RIM’s underwhelming product and marketing missteps," and says that RIM needs "someone who already has world-class marketing, product development and turnaround expertise, versus someone who now gets to practice that in his first CEO role."

For Kanade, "Heins is perhaps the best solution for now, but let's see what he can deliver this year."

Kanade gives the new CEO two to three quarters to build up RIM's credibility. Abramsky agrees Heins now has "a window of opportunity to show what they can do to reverse RIM'S slide."

However, Abramsky adds, "We believe this window is narrowing."

Apple and Android a challenge for RIM

For Peter Misek, a Jefferies & Co. analyst in New York, Heins' appointment was a big surprise, but he argues that Heins "has what it takes to do the job."

Research in Motions's co-CEOs and co-chairs, Mike Lazaridis, left, and Jim Balsillie, attend the Research in Motion annual meeting in Waterloo, Ont., July 12, 2011. They stepped down from those positions on Jan. 22. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Misek says the leadership change at RIM "removes a lot of stumbling blocks and has the potential for significant partnerships."

Despite seeing it as a positive move, Misek only gives Heins a quarter or two at the most to show results.

Misek told CBC Radio's Mike Hornbrook that RIM has been out-innovated by Apple and the companies using Google's android operating system on their smartphones. Those companies can easily outspend RIM on research and development and marketing, he observed.

"The focus should not be to go head to head with Apple and Android," Misek said.

Instead, RIM should leverage their strengths, which Misek said are their talent and their network. "They have a phenomenal NOC/node [network operations centre, which uses push email] system and global network that allows for communications to be compressed, to be secure and to reach any device anywhere in the world."

Misek says he would like to see RIM allow BlackBerry email and instant messaging onto their competitors' devices, which use Android and Apple's IOS.

RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market fell from 44 per cent in 2009 to just 10 per cent in 2011. It has 75 million active subscribers.

Board changes viewed as positive

Abramsky writes that for RBC Capital Markets, the changes to the Board of Directors are a positive step.

The new board chair, Barb Stymiest, is a former COO at the Royal Bank of Canada. She has been on RIM's board since 2007.

Prem Watsa, the CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings, a financial services company, is now a board member. Fairfax is one of RIM's largest shareholders, after Lazaridis and Balsillie.

Heins has Stymiest and Watsa's support, and Kanade told CBC News that Watsa, "knows how it works so he doesn't want too many changes at the same time."

Abramsky, although positive, cautions that the board changes "don't bring to the board additional technology or direct industry experience."

And he adds that with Lazaridis and Balsillie still on the board, it's unclear "whether or not the board will provide sufficient checks and balances to management decisions."

What about the takeover roumours?

RIM's share price, which fell 75 per cent in 2011, has rallied in recent weeks as various takeover rumours swirled.

When asked by CBC News' Heather Hiscox whether one of his goals is to set RIM up for a takeover, Heins responded, "That's clearly not the mandate."