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RIM's challenging summer of change Add to ...

With thousands of layoffs coming, a business that is starting to bleed red ink and a board that is examining every option, Research In Motion Ltd. will look like a very different company by the end of the summer.

Shares of the once-dominant Canadian technology giant plunged on Wednesday, falling more than 7 per cent, after RIM said it will likely post an operating loss when it announces its first-quarter results a month from now. The company has hired two investment banks to assist it in a strategic review – a sign it may be willing to sell assets, such as its hardware business or its patent portfolio.

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Now, as a slew of analysts once again lower their expectations of the company’s performance, many are starting to wonder just how extreme RIM’s summer makeover will be.

Significant layoffs are certain. RIM’s decision to announce that an operating loss is likely is a signal that the slump in BlackBerry sales is getting a lot worse. That means pink slips for some of the 16,500 employees who remain: The Globe and Mail reported last week that at least 2,000 jobs will likely be cut, according to sources closes to the company. New chief executive officer Thorsten Heins has previously indicated he wants the company to be leaner and more focused on fewer key areas. He hasn’t publicly detailed what those areas will be, beyond the coming launch of new BlackBerry 10 devices.

Even if RIM has no intention of laying off its core engineering talent, another round of layoffs could still have unintended consequences. Mike Abramsky, a principal at RedTeam Global, a strategic technology advisory firm, said there is concern that RIM’s most valuable employees will also leave. “While cost savings are one thing, the exodus of the best talent is also the risk,” he said.





Despite widespread anticipation that the company will soon shed thousands of jobs, RIM spokeswoman Tenille Kennedy said it is still hiring in certain areas.

“RIM will continue to spend and hire in key areas such as those associated with the launch of BlackBerry 10, and those tied to the growth of our application developer community,” she said in a statement. “We will share more details regarding our progress throughout the year as programs are implemented or changes are completed.”

RIM’s career opportunity page does list dozens of job openings posted in the past few days. The vast majority are for engineering-related positions.

But among the new jobs listed on Wednesday were two positions for employment lawyers to join RIM’s legal team.

RIM executives were not made available for comment on Wednesday, as the company says it is entering its quiet period ahead of its first-quarter earnings announcement on June 28.

Layoffs will mark only the first portion of RIM’s expected transformation. As a result of its strategic review, which is being done with the help of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Royal Bank of Canada’s investment banking unit, the company will have to at least consider the option of selling part of its business – or all of it, if a willing buyer can be found. RIM may also choose to license its BlackBerry operating system or popular BlackBerry Messenger software to outside vendors.

It could also shed many of its employees and project groups and choose to become a niche player in the smartphone market – perhaps focusing on its key strength, which is catering to business and government customers who want high-security wireless devices.

Any of those moves would mark a radical shift in strategy – and with the shares trading at levels not seen since 2003, some of its investors won’t be satisfied with anything but dramatic change.

Vic Alboini, chief executive officer of Jaguar Financial Corp., which has long been a vocal critic of the company’s strategy, said the BlackBerry maker has been too slow to hire advisers for its strategic review.

Jaguar is pushing for a break-up scenario, arguing that the sale of RIM’s parts – including the handset business, its software and services platform, patents and real estate holdings – would likely yield the best outcome for shareholders.

Additionally, Mr. Alboini stressed that operating expense cutbacks ought to include reducing the number of BlackBerry models that are manufactured, streamlining the work force and other operating expense reductions around the world.

“The restructuring has to be all-pervasive. It has to be global. And it has to be done as quickly as possible,” he said.



With files from reporter Iain Marlow





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