BlackBerry bashed as questions swirl about future

Fri Sep 16, 2011 3:45pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch and Alastair Sharp

(Reuters) - Investors drove Research In Motion's stock down 20 percent on Friday as dismal quarterly results raised prospects that the BlackBerry maker will be sold, broken up, or at least placed under new leadership.

The sell-off, which wiped out $3 billion of RIM's market capitalization, underscored how bad times have become for the one-time smartphone leader, once a byword for corporate communication.

A day after the earnings report, analysts spoke of disappointment, challenges and a ticking clock.

The latest misstep increased pressure on senior executives, who have been urged to step aside by investors and analysts concerned about repeated failures to execute strategy, and criticism spread to the company's board.

"Investors are telling us that a change needs to happen very quickly. The market is saying that the management are not the right guys to lead the company going forward," said Barry Schwartz, portfolio manager at Baskin Financial Services.

Run by co-founder Mike Lazaridis and salesman sidekick Jim Balsillie, who joined Lazaridis as co-CEO well before RIM had ever shipped a BlackBerry, the company this year set it sights on bringing out a tablet computer to compete with Apple Inc's iPad.

But results of the effort -- a tablet called the PlayBook -- have so far been disappointing. In addition, the company's BlackBerry smartphone is rapidly losing market share, and RIM has issued a series of damaging profit warnings.

Lazaridis and Balsillie report to a board that includes, in addition to themselves, seven other directors, only two of whom have any obvious background in the telecommunications or technology industry: John Wetmore, who served as finance chief of IBM Canada, and Antonio Viana-Baptista, who before retiring in 2008 worked at Telefonica.   Continued...

<p>Visitors pass an advertising banner showing a Blackberry mobile at the CeBIT computer fair in Hanover March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>