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Former BlackBerry co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, and current CEO Thorsten Heins in a photo collage. (Globe and Mail photo illustration)

Former BlackBerry co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, and current CEO Thorsten Heins in a photo collage.

(Globe and Mail photo illustration)

Inside the fall of BlackBerry: How the smartphone inventor failed to adapt Add to ...

He is still a minority shareholder in BlackBerry, and continues to be the subject of rumours he may join a group to buy out his former company.

Mr. Lazaridis declined to discuss any such plans, but it is clear he believes the BlackBerry story is not over.

“Many companies go through cycles. Intel experienced it, IBM experienced it, Apple experienced it. Our job was to reinvent ourselves, which we all believed BB10 would do,” he said.

“The fact that a Canadian company was able to compete in that space with two of the largest tech companies in the world is a big deal. People counted IBM, Apple and other companies out only to be proven wrong. I am rooting that they are wrong on BlackBerry as well.”

With reports from Tara Perkins, Omar El Akkad and Iain Marlow

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AN INTERVIEW WITH CEO THORSTEN HEINS

Did you make the most of the strategic opportunities before you when you became CEO? Did you make the right choices? Are there any you would reconsider?

When I was appointed CEO in January, 2012, I knew there were challenges and opportunities for all of us at BlackBerry. We had an aging OS and no LTE product, for example. What we have created with BlackBerry 10, BES 10 and BBM is a reliable and secure foundation to enable us to continue to innovate and create new opportunities. The decisions we made over the last two years were made within the context of a volatile, competitive and ever-changing marketplace – and always with the goal of delivering the vital technology that our customers need and creating value for our shareholders.

How do you feel about the way things have turned out with the BlackBerry 10 launch?

We launched a new platform that delivers a new and different user experience, an experience that was engineered for people who value extreme productivity, but the downside is that there is a steeper learning curve when it comes to adopting any new technology that is disruptive, and I believe that contributed to the slower sales.

Why was BlackBerry 10 so late?

As you know, there were delays during the process, but we are proud of what our team has developed and brought to market. The integration of the new features into the platform proved to be more complex and thus more time-consuming than anticipated. The issues were not related to the quality or functionality of the features in the software, but rather the time required to manage the integration of such a large volume of code and prepare it for commercial use globally.

Has this been difficult for you personally?

This isn’t about me; this is about our employees and our customers. One of BlackBerry’s greatest strengths is its talented, committed and passionate employees. And that is why the recent reduction to the work force was particularly challenging and difficult, albeit necessary, to address our position in a maturing and more competitive industry, and to drive the company toward profitability.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Why the China plan was shelved

One of the many strategies that became a casualty of internal feuding at Research In Motion Ltd. was a confidential plan for a China-backed venture to sell the company’s wireless network systems in Asia.

In the summer of 2010, RIM’s chairwoman Barbara Stymiest and then co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie approached the state-owned fund China Investment Corp. (CIC) with an overture to form a joint venture. According to people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Balsillie and CIC reached a preliminary understanding in 2011. Under the plan, Beijing agreed to approve RIM as the official supplier of wireless operating systems in China, one of world’s biggest and fastest growing mobile markets that was virtually closed to foreign competitors.

A new China-based company would be formed and owned by CIC, RIM and a handful of Chinese mobile phone makers. The venture would sell Chinese-made phones which, under a licensing agreement, would operate on RIM’s core software.

“Beijing was very keen to do this deal,” said one person involved in the talks.

Mr. Balsillie championed the venture as a lucrative window into the tightly controlled Chinese market. But according to insiders, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis and a number of directors worried the plan would distract the company from its core focus on launching a new smartphone, the BlackBerry 10.

While RIM’s executives debated the China strategy internally for nearly two years, its potential Asian partners were left in the dark. “We heard nothing. The whole thing just frittered away,” said one person close to the Chinese partners.

Shortly after Thorsten Heins was appointed RIM’s CEO in 2013, the China plan was shelved. Mr. Heins declined in a statement to discuss the abandoned venture.

Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

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Follow us on Twitter: @SeanSilcoff, @jacquiemcnish

 
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