RIM's new leader raises doubts among investors

Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:03pm EST
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By Alastair Sharp, Kate Holton and Paul Sandle

TORONTO/LONDON (Reuters) - The new leader at Research In Motion on Monday dismissed talk of drastic change at the BlackBerry maker, a declaration seized on by impatient investors who say Thorsten Heins has only 12 to 18 months to turn RIM around.

Takeover talk, swirling around RIM for months, picked up steam as Heins took the helm at a once-dominant smartphone company that now struggles to compete. But RIM's shares tumbled more than 8 percent as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse RIM's decline.

"I don't think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving ... but this is not a seismic change," said Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer.

RIM's co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the men who engineered RIM's rise, resigned on Saturday after intense investor pressure. Their presence had been seen as a big obstacle to a possible sale of the company, although Heins insisted that was not an option he was considering.

Shareholders and analysts have grown impatient in recent months and calls for Lazaridis and Balsillie to step aside had reached a crescendo. RIM has lost market share and market value after being comprehensively outplayed by Silicon Valley tech giants Apple and Google.

"If Thorsten really believes that there are no changes to be made, he will be gone within 15 to 18 months. He will be a transitional CEO and this will be a transitional board," said Jaguar CEO Vic Alboini, who leads an informal group of 16 RIM shareholders calling for a radical restructuring. The group holds a little less than 10 percent of RIM's stock.

Lazaridis and Balsillie - two of RIM's three largest shareholders with more than 5 percent each - will remain board members, while Lazaridis will also head a newly created innovation committee. Their new roles suggest continuity was a goal in the transition.

Critics have called for a new leader who can rejuvenate both the design and operational sides of the business, or prepare it for sale to one of a raft of rumored buyers.   Continued...

<p>Thorsten Heins poses for a portrait at the Research in Motion (RIM) company headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Geoff Robins</p>