Exclusive: Former RIM boss sought strategy shift before he quit

Fri Apr 13, 2012 6:54am EDT
 
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By Alastair Sharp

TORONTO (Reuters) - Former Research In Motion co-chief executive Jim Balsillie sought to reinvent the BlackBerry smartphone maker with a radical shift in strategy before he stepped down, two sources with knowledge of his plans said.

Balsillie hoped to allow major wireless companies in North America and Europe to provide service for non-BlackBerry devices routed through RIM's proprietary network, a major break with the BlackBerry-only strategy pursued by RIM since its inception.

The plan would have let the carriers use the RIM network to offer inexpensive data plans, limited to social media and instant messaging, to entice low-tier customers to upgrade from no-frills phones to smartphones.

But the talks with carriers led to discord at the highest levels of the troubled Canadian company, and Balsillie resigned as a director soon after he stepped down as co-CEO. His former partner at the helm, Mike Lazaridis, still has an active role.

The veto leaves RIM's focus squarely on a new generation of BlackBerry gadgets it promises will wow consumers. The devices will have to do just that, analysts say, to arrest the precipitous decline in market share suffered by RIM, the company that virtually invented mobile email more than a decade ago.

Balsillie's plan may have heralded a broader strategic move by RIM to define its high-margin network services - which bring in around $1 billion a quarter - as a business that's distinct from building and marketing the BlackBerry. That hardware business may have lost money last year.

Carriers may have seen value in the plan, which would have encouraged lower-value talk-and-text customers to upgrade to entry-level smartphone plans, with access limited to Twitter, Facebook, messaging and other social media platforms.

The package would have included RIM's BlackBerry Messenger application, a powerful tool that has kept many BlackBerry users faithful even as flashier gadgets from Apple Inc and running Google Inc's Android software beckon.   Continued...

 
Research In Motion (RIM) Co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie arrives at the annual general meeting of shareholders in Waterloo July 12, 2011. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese