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RIM CEO Thorsten Heins (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski)
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski)

ROB Magazine

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins: 100 days into the toughest job in corporate Canada Add to ...

Around 10 a.m. the following day, Heins takes to a stage within RIM 4—another squat company building, this one near the University of Waterloo campus—to address the staff he’s now meant to lead. There are about 100 people in the room, and roughly 14,000 employees tuning in from around the world. Lazaridis makes introductions, and stresses how difficult this is and how much he loves the company. Balsillie says much the same, then demands the staff show fealty to a new regime: “I want your word that you will give Thorsten 100% support. Do I have your commitment?”

Heins, who has been with the company since 2007, steps forward. Without a jacket but with a BlackBerry holster secured to his belt, he seems to personify the split messaging that has dogged RIM in the iPhone era, when it has become unclear exactly what a BlackBerry brand stands for: Work? Play? Both? Neither? In one sentence he stresses the need for “flawless execution.” In another he proclaims that “we rock in Asia-Pac.” He addresses the idea that RIM’s internal processes have been “bipolar”—less a nod to the recently strained and dysfunctional co-CEO structure than an admission that RIM needs to be more decisive about its strategy. “It just gives me hurt feelings if we have such great ideas and then we get kind of criticized in the public because we miss it by three months, or we’re not complete when we really want to launch something,” Heins tells the crowd. “Let’s just go rock ’n’ roll it,” he concludes. “And, you know, we will all be having a lot of fun together. And a lot of success. Thank you.”

For a company long ruled by two men with serious cases of founders’ syndrome—who often responded to criticism of their management with wide-eyed innocence and denial—this level of clarity about the need to tinker with RIM is refreshing. “I’ve been at the company for over 10 years,” says Wes Nicol, who manages RIM’s presence in the Caribbean and the Andean region of South America. “[Heins brings]a fresh energy, and a fresh approach to working together. It really, sort of, energized the company.” The pep rally was also a chance to help paint a more relatable picture of Heins, who generally plays up a stereotypical Germanic love of efficiency and process. Heidi Davidson, senior vice-president of communications, lobs him questions e-mailed from staff. Asked how he likes to spend his spare time, Heins mentions a hobby not exactly unknown to computer engineers. “I actually love race simulations on the PC, so I race Formula 1,” Heins says. Perhaps because people might get the impression Heins is not a man of action, Heins adds quickly, “I’ve been in a real car, also, but that’s a different story.”

Outside of RIM 4, Heins’s appointment has not brought an end to the cycle of negativity surrounding the company. Earlier in the morning, following a conference call with analysts, the chorus of “Thorsten who?” has already begun. The Wall Street Journal’s Marketplace editor, Dennis Berman, points out on Twitter that Thorsten Heins’s name doesn’t even auto-fill in a Google search (it does now). Whereas a day earlier, Heins wanted it known that RIM’s marketing troubles were his top priority, now it seems Heins himself has become a marketing problem. The company’s already-battered stock sinks more than 9% in heavy trading when markets open. On Day One, at least, the bleeding continues.

DAY FIVE: January 27
While Heins’s appointment does little to shift the narrative in North America that RIM is sliding into irrelevance, the company’s momentum in emerging markets is another matter. Last year, in Africa, for example, RIM saw 741% growth in handset shipments. It’s Heins’s job to provide fresh clarity, direction and resources to managers of these mystical growth areas, places where very few people use iPhones and the BlackBerry is king.

On the Friday evening after the shakeup, Greg Wade, RIM’s managing director for Asia-Pacific, walks into his Singapore office and finds the place buzzing. He stops to take in the scene. “Wow,” he thinks. “If you could bottle up this vibe—and it’s a true vibe—just imagine what we could accomplish.”

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