July 13, 2011 2:27 am

Research In Motion chiefs defend record

Research In Motion’s joint chief executives have launched a vigorous defence of their record and expressed confidence in the BlackBerry maker’s future as most shareholders gave their backing to management.

“RIM’s foundations are very strong”, Jim Balsillie told a standing-room only crowd at the company’s annual meeting on Tuesday evening in Waterloo, Ontario, where the company is headquartered.

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RIM shares have lost more than half their value in the past six months as the BlackBerry, once the smartphone of choice for corporate executives, politicians and Hollywood celebrities, has struggled to maintain its edge against rivals including Apple’s iPhone and handsets using Google’s Android operating system.

The company slashed its profit outlook last month and warned of lay-offs as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Mr Balsillie and his co-chairman and co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis have faced mounting criticism about their roles in the company.

But shareholders on Tuesday voted overwhelming to reappoint the company’s nine directors, including Mr Balsillie and Mr Lazaridis. Each received more than 90 per cent of votes cast.

A few shareholders raised concerns, questioning, among other things, the marketing strategy for the recently launched PlayBook tablet.

Mr Balsillie and Mr Lazaridis brushed aside the criticisms, They highlighted the planned launch within the next few months of seven different BlackBerry smartphones, as well as the rollout in 2012 of devices using the QNX operating system, acquired by RIM last year.

“We’re on the verge of one of the biggest global product launches in our history”, Mr Balsillie said. He noted that more than a million new BlackBerry subscribers have signed up in Europe, Africa and the Middle East over the past three weeks.

RIM averted a showdown at the annual meeting by earlier agreeing to set up a committee to study its leadership structure in response to a proxy proposal by Northwest & Ethical Investments, a shareholder, to split the chairman and chief executive roles. In return, Northwest agreed to withdraw the proposal.

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