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When Thorsten Heins signed up for the top job at Research In Motion in January, he knew he faced a tough challenge to turn the struggling BlackBerry maker around.
But his insistence at the time that RIM’s problems were mere “bumps in the road” and did not require a radical rethink in strategy, shocked investors and analysts who had watched RIM’s share price plunge by more than 75 per cent in a year.
Ten weeks later, after conducting what he described as “a comprehensive internal review”, Mr Heins admitted that he had changed his mind.
“The impression that I had of RIM as of day two of being a CEO is now pretty different,” he said on a call with analysts to discuss RIM’s dismal fourth-quarter results.
His willingness to abruptly change direction demonstrated one of the ways that Mr Heins, a 54-year-old German-born physicist, differs markedly from the men he replaced, RIM’s founder Mike Lazaridis and his long-time co-chief executive, Jim Balsillie.
Despite a reputation for being somewhat reserved, Mr Heins has also chosen to be far more open than his predecessors in talking to the press.
For example, after delivering an upbeat but markedly realistic keynote address to developers at the BlackBerry World conference in Florida last month, he held an unexpectedly frank 45 minute press conference – something his predecessors had never done.
During his address, Mr Heins came across as confident, but by no means arrogant and appeared to be genuinely excited demonstrating a prototype of a next generation touchscreen smartphone running BlackBerry 10, the new operating system that is a core part of RIM’s future.
It was the first time that many of those in the audience had encountered the man charged with rescuing RIM. Before he was named to the job in January, few outside RIM – which he joined in 2007 after being chief technology officer of Siemens’ communications division – had heard of him.
While Mr Heins still insists that RIM has “a great future ahead of it”, he has already demonstrated that he is willing to get to grips with RIM’s problems. He has appointed two investment banks to help the company sift through its strategic options including possible partnerships and licensing deals.
So far however, he has resisted calls from some to sell or break up the company. He insists that RIM, the 78m users of BlackBerry devices and the BlackBerry brand will be saved by the introduction of the BlackBerry 10 operating system.
However not everyone is convinced. Richard Windsor, an analyst with Nomura, fears that even with the substantial restructuring and job cuts that Mr Heins is expected to announce shortly, RIM’s fate has already been sealed by the declining popularity of the BlackBerry.
Mr Windsor wrote this week: “Our revised forecasts assume a permanent decline in competitiveness, a sustained decline in units and persistent losses from the device business long-term. We still view management’s strategy ... as overly ambitious and unlikely to succeed.”
If that proves to be the case, Mr Heins will be remembered not as a hero, but as the man who tried valiantly to save RIM, but failed.