Thorsten Heins, the man now charged with leading Research In Motion Ltd. to victory in the smartphone arms race, years ago made an observation about the nature of consumers that will serve him well in his new job.
In 2005, about two years before he first joined the Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry maker, Mr. Heins was asked to comment on the outlook for high-speed mobile phone services at a trade show in Singapore. Even back then, it seems, the seasoned telecommunications executive was keenly aware that consumers are fickle creatures.
“The end user is not concerned with the technology behind the service, they’re concerned with the applications they can get,” Mr. Heins told Bloomberg at the time.
Now Mr. Heins faces the enormous challenge of reversing the market’s perceptions that RIM no longer has its finger firmly on the pulse of shifting consumer tastes.
Mr. Heins, though, is eager to prove he is up to the task. On Sunday, in a boardroom at RIM 10, a large building located on the company’s sprawling Waterloo campus, he stood beside a table playing with the PlayBook, which has a new operating system. “I love this system,” he said.
Sporting a BlackBerry pin featuring the company’s signature seven-dot logo on his lapel, Mr. Heins stressed that he is well prepared for his new job. “I know how to do this, I have the skills to do this.”
Admitting that he was always hoping for a significant management role at RIM, he said nothing was promised to him when he first joined the company in 2007. When asked if he expected to be made CEO, he replied, “I hoped I would be.”
While he may not have the splashy image of Apple’s late founder Steve Jobs, or even the high profile of his two RIM predecessors, the bespectacled 54-year-old has quietly become a key part of the company’s turnaround strategy over the past year.
Mr. Heins has been serving as RIM’s chief operating officer of product engineering since July, 2011, when the company announced a management shakeup in conjunction with plans to cut more than 10 per cent of its work force.
His move into that role, which involved the ultimate oversight of all hardware and software in addition to sales, was touted as a meaningful move to ensure the company could eliminate the lengthy delays that have dogged its product launches.
He has also served as senior vice-president of the BlackBerry Handheld Business Unit, tasked with overseeing the BlackBerry smartphone portfolio worldwide. His total compensation was roughly $1.92-million (U.S.) for 2011.
During the Sunday interview, he made it clear that he wouldn’t have joined RIM if it was just a handset business, saying he loved the larger possibilities provided by an integrated communications company with its own secure servers.
Prior to RIM, he had a lengthy career at Germany-based cellphone maker Siemens AG, including a stint as chief technology officer. As he climbed the ladder at Siemens, following his hiring in 1984, he cut his teeth in a number of key areas including mobility, fixed networks and consumer devices.
In doing so, he gleaned on-the-ground work experience both in Germany and the United States, raising his profile within the industry.
Mr. Heins, who was born in Gifhorn, Germany on Dec. 29, 1957, has a master’s degree in science and physics from the University of Hanover.
In addition to his duties at RIM, he is a member of the board of directors for the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce Inc. His personal interests include mountain biking and hiking.
Married with two children, he uses a BlackBerry Messenger group to keep in touch with his wife as she travels between Germany and Canada, and with his children, who are based in Ottawa and Toronto.