Kristian Tear picks up his sleek-looking BlackBerry 10 smartphone and looks at it closely, careful not to reveal any e-mails from other executives at Research In Motion Ltd. that might expose the company’s private information.
As the newly installed chief operating officer, Mr. Tear is in charge of RIM’s vast research and development efforts, its global supply chain, and the painful layoffs of 5,000 employees at one of Canada’s few global corporate champions. His e-mails are probably pretty interesting – not to mention confidential.
But the Swedish executive can’t help but indulge a request to show off the smartphone that is meant to save RIM.
“Let me fire it up so it looks a bit more lively,” Mr. Tear says, opening software applications and windows on the device as he stands in the Quasar boardroom at RIM’s headquarters in Waterloo.
While still in one application, he sweeps his thumb up and to the right from the bottom of the screen, showing a sneak peek of his inbox – just enough to show his unread messages, and who they’re from. And then, while careful to show only Google Alerts from his Gmail account, he drags his thumb down from the top of the screen that shows his inbox, which unveils his next appointment without changing applications.
Typing, he shows how the digital keyboard on the touchscreen device predicts his words, which he flings, one by one, into his message with his thumbs.
“It’s super cool,” Mr. Tear says with a big grin on his face.
It’s also important to RIM’s future. The BlackBerry 10 is designed to stabilize the stunning loss of market share that the company has suffered over the past few years, particularly in the United States.
Mr. Tear is one of a new crop of senior executives, along with chief legal officer Steven Zipperstein and chief marketing officer Frank Boulben, that have been hired by chief executive officer Thorsten Heins to execute that turnaround plan.
They are an assortment of global wireless and telecommunications executives whose jobs are to sort out the organizational dysfunction that led to numerous delays and product glitches, fix the stodgy legal culture that sometimes hampered innovation, and craft a coherent marketing message that will make consumers want to own a BlackBerry again.
Mr. Tear, taking on the COO role that Mr. Heins himself held before his promotion in January, has a crucial position on that team. Formerly with Sony-Ericsson and Sony Mobile, he has seen good times and bad.
“There are necessary steps to be taken, and I’ve seen them taken before,” he says. “Thorsten has a lot of experience with turnarounds, and so do I.”
RIM, of course, has lost huge ground to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices running Google Inc.’s Android mobile software. Both rivals have annihilated RIM’s market share in the United States. Globally, Samsung Electronics is putting pressure on RIM’s growth in emerging markets, where cheaper Chinese competitors such as Huawei Technologies are coming in at the low end of exploding smartphone sectors.
But Mr. Tear, who says regaining U.S. share and doing better in China are priorities, seems extremely confident, personifying a corporate narrative that has shifted gradually over the past few months from hopelessness to cautious optimism. After showing the new phones off to wireless carriers on a global road show, RIM recently said it has begun sending them off so that carriers can test BlackBerry 10 on their networks. On Monday, RIM announced that the company would hold a global launch party for the full-touchscreen BlackBerry – as well as a touchscreen model with a physical keyboard – on Jan. 30, with commercial availability of the devices likely coming soon after.
Mr. Zipperstein, who inherited a legal department that has been viewed as too controlling, comes to his new role from Verizon Communications Inc. RIM, despite its successes, has a history of legal embarrassments – from the $612-million patent settlement with NTP Inc. to prematurely announcing that its new operating system would be called BBX, when that name was already legally held by another company.
RIM’s lacklustre standing in China has also been blamed partly on legal issues, including concern in Waterloo about Chinese join tventures and local partnerships that might threaten RIM’s lucrative, existing business with security-conscious governments, according to some former executives.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help make RIM the easiest company to do business with,” Mr. Zipperstein said, stressing that the department was now operating under four official buzzwords: urgent, efficient, practical and creative.
One of his goals to is work with governments and other companies to try to iron out some of the patent issues that have led to a flurry of litigation in the wireless sector. Many of the biggest cases involve Apple and companies that make Android devices that are battling over who owns the patents on certain phone features and software functionality.
“The result of all this litigation is that it doesn’t benefit consumers, it doesn’t benefit innovation,” Mr. Zipperstein said.