Research In Motion’s top executives stepped down late Sunday, as the BlackBerry maker turns to new leadership to rebuild its struggling brand.
Mike Lazaridis, who co-founded RIM in 1984, and Jim Balsillie, who joined the company in 1992, stepped down and relinquished their roles as co-chairmen, but will stay on the directors’ board as major shareholders.
The leadership change arrives in the wake of a disastrous year for RIM. Plummeting sales and market share due to the failed BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and a void of new hardware, combined with repeated delays and legal snafus surrounding the launch of the company’s new BlackBerry 10 software, left frustrated investors and shareholders calling for a major shakeup.
However, Lazaridis and Balsillie insist they were not forced out, and the decision was “not a reaction” to such pressures. Rather, the men say this was the right time to hand over the reins because RIM’s two biggest projects — a revised PlayBook tablet and the new BlackBerry 10 operating system — are on track.
RIM’s board appointed Thorsten Heins, former chief operating officer for software, hardware and sales, as the new CEO.
Heins faces numerous challenges, and analysts already question whether the BlackBerry brand is salvageable. The devices once led the global smartphone market and dominated the business sector, but lost millions of customers to the growing popularity touchscreen and app-centric devices like Apple’s iPhone and Google Android handsets.
Still, RIM retains a devoted customer base in emerging markets like Asia and the Middle East, and BlackBerry security features are still widely viewed as top-notch, despite recent hacks of the PlayBook in 2011. The company has the tools for a turnaround, but how Heins implements those tools will determine the outcome.
The leadership change will likely appease frustrated shareholders who called repeatedly for a leadership change and give a much-needed morale boost for RIM’s employees, many of whom faced potential layoffs last year. But what RIM will need most is successful product launches to renew consumer interest in BlackBerry, and the sooner, the better, ramping up pressure on the new CEO.