Dramatic changes at embattled technology giant Research in Motion this week raised more questions than they answered. The Blackberry makerís share price plunged on word it had named company insider, Thorsten Heins, as its next CEO. RIMís stock has since partially recovered but is still 73 per cent below year ago levels.
Heins was the choice of embattled co-CEOs and co-chairs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who stepped aside but remain major shareholders with seats on RIMís board.
One of the key jobs of any board is to choose a companyís CEO. The Star asked newly named RIM chair Barbara Stymiest, a highly respected banking and stock market executive, to shed more light on the boardís decision to endorse Heins.
The Star: Critics are saying the company hasnít gone far enough to address concerns that the founders, Mr. Lazaridis and Mr. Balsillie, are still running the show. How do you respond?
Stymiest: The founders have passed the baton to Thorsten Heins as President and CEO, and he will take on the full responsibilities associated with the role. Moreover, Iím an independent Chair of the Board and eight of the Boardís 11 members are independent.
Itís very much Thorstenís time to lead Ė his focus going forward is for RIM to continue to innovate, develop and market customer-focused products and services that will carry the company well into the next decade. Thorsten will accomplish this by drawing upon RIMís talented hardware and software development teams, implementing processes and controls to ensure effective execution of our strategies and building on the companyís unique competitive advantages.
The Star: What specific qualities persuaded the board that Mr. Heins was the best person for the job given that heíd been in a senior role during the time the company began faltering?
Stymiest: We believe Thorsten is the right executive to succeed Mike and Jim. He has 27 years of telecommunications experience, including 4 years at RIM in senior management positions. During Thorstenís tenure with RIM, he has served as Senior Vice President for Handheld Business Units and Hardware Engineering, Chief Operating Officer for Product Engineering and Hardware, and Chief Operating Officer for Product and Sales. In each role, he has done an outstanding job and made significant contributions to the company.As a board, we unanimously believe that Thorsten possess the capabilities, the organization skills and the passion and vision to effectively assume the reins from Mike and Jim.
Thorsten only recently took over all software and hardware product development and sales activities. He has infused the Company with a renewed sense of discipline and focus. Under his leadership, for example, PlayBook 2.0ís software upgrade is being released to considerable early acclaim. Thorstenís approach is to empower employees to take appropriate risks, make decisions and to be accountable for their actions. He will make sure they have the tools and resources they need to be successful.
The Star: Did the board consider searching outside the company for other candidates and if not, why not?
Stymiest: When Mike and Jim came to the board with the idea that it was time to implement the succession plan that they had previously submitted and appoint Thorsten as CEO, the board agreed to consider the proposal. And following its due diligence and based on its experience with Thorsten in increasing senior executive roles at the company over the past few years, the board unanimously agreed with their recommendation that Thorsten was the right person to lead RIM and to assume the role of president and CEO at this time. Thorsten is uniquely qualified to lead Ė he understands RIMís strengths and weaknesses, but brings an independent perspective and leadership. He has a depth of management, operational and product development experience. As to whether outside candidates were considered, Board deliberations are confidential.
The Star: Youíve had a remarkable career and are clearly a pioneer and leader. What challenges are you facing at RIM that might be either new or similar to your previous corporate experience?
Whatís the next step for the board?
Stymiest: My experience serving as a member of RBCís Group Executive helped me shape the overall strategic direction of the company. I will also be drawing on my previous corporate leadership experience to help me in the role of Board Chair, including expertise I gained as CEO at TSX Group Inc., Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at BMO Nesbitt Burns and as a Partner of Ernst & Young LLP. The Board is very excited about RIMís prospects for the future and we are confident the company will continue to flourish in the mobile communications industry under Thorstenís leadership.