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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 ...

These are intriguingly existential questions from the CEO of an established company that, despite all of its problems, pulled in revenues of nearly $20 billion in each of the last two years. Heins tells me he has spent the last three months trying to figure out the answers. He’s travelled widely, meeting with employees across North America and Europe. “You see tons of BlackBerrys out there,” Heins says. He has been interacting with divisions that he previously had little contact with, such as sales. He’s met with the CEOs of many of RIM’s carrier clients, and launched a worldwide survey of BlackBerry owners analyzing how people use their devices throughout the day. From the outside, Heins says he’s hearing that people want RIM to survive, that security is still important to them. “Sharpen your saw, be good at what you’re good at,” they tell him. “Don’t let go on enterprise. This is your core.” That, of course, is the quintessential view of RIM: the security-focused corporate wireless service provider. But that doesn’t mean Heins thinks RIM doesn’t have to change structurally, in big ways. One of Heins’s great advantages is that he does not owe his career to RIM, that he sees few sacred cows among those likely coming to the slaughter. “It kind of allowed me to get a clearer view of what fits, and what doesn’t fit,” he says. “Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. I kind of figured out a few pieces that I don’t need in my puzzle to be successful.”

DAY ONE HUNDRED: May 1

At 9 a.m. on his 100th day as CEO, Heins climbs another stage, this one at the Orlando World Center Marriott. It’s the annual BlackBerry World conference, and the mood is upbeat. After thanking developers in the audience for showing up, Heins unveils a new touchscreen BlackBerry 10 device, a prototype both in software and hardware. While an employee shows off the sleek functions—like a camera that lets you zoom in and wind back the frames to open a subject’s eyes—Heins looks like a father at his kid’s recital. “I’m so excited to have this in my hand and show it to you, because I know how much work has gone into it,” Heins says. As the demo continues, he can’t help himself. “I love, I love it,” he gushes. “This is so cool.”

While Heins is on stage—receiving generous applause—Twitter lights up with glowing BlackBerry 10 praise. The markets open, too, but RIM’s shares begin to sink. By the end of the day, shares are down 5.8% on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Two days later, they will dip to an eight-year low of less than $12. People are trading on the fundamentals—the company’s deteriorating metrics. They’re digesting the idea that, barring a takeover or something equally dramatic, RIM has a slow, punishing climb ahead of it.

If RIM is to mount a comeback, it will be based largely on software—an area in which it has traditionally lagged. But it can be done. There was a time in North America when the Big Three automakers looked like they had rusted away; they have since clawed their way back, reinventing themselves. And if you ask Heins what RIM needs to do now to reinvent itself, he lands on an anecdote about the high-powered CEOs whom he meets with regularly. Many of them now carry two devices: their reliable and utterly indispensable work BlackBerry (the Bold is a popular model) and an iPhone they use for fun. “My job,” Heins says, is to “make them carry one device.” The question is, which one will they choose.

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