New CEO promises to take RIM to ‘the next phase’

January 28, 2012

Research In Motion’s new chief executive officer, Thorsten Heins, brings decades of hardware experience as he seeks to revive a company outpaced by Apple and Google in mobile computing.

Heins, who is replacing co-chief executive officers Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, joined RIM four years ago after more than two decades at German engineering giant Siemens in roles including research and development and product management. The 54-year-old German native was one of RIM’s two operating chiefs, overseeing engineering, hardware and software.

RIM, which helped pioneer the U.S. smartphone market more than a decade ago, is betting on the management overhaul to stem falling sales and market-share losses to Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Heins said that he promotes “creativity, innovation and free thinking” and that the company is ready to go head-to-head with its Silicon Valley rivals.

“We need to fight back and get stronger,” Heins said. “You will see and hear much more from us.”

Balsillie and Lazaridis, who guided RIM together for two decades, only to see an 88 percent drop in the company’s stock price since 2008, said the decision to step down and appoint Heins was theirs. Lazaridis, who founded the Waterloo, Ontario-based company in 1984, said the shift is a result of the company’s evolution and the introduction of new technologies that will give RIM more competitive products.

“He’s really excelled in every department he’s been responsible for,” Lazaridis said. “He became the natural choice.”

Product delays

Heins’s top challenge will be to lead RIM’s transition to next-generation products running on a new operating system, which has suffered from delays. In December, RIM said the first BlackBerrys based on the new system, called BB10, won’t be available until the latter part of this year.

The company also had a nine-month delay in getting e-mail onto its PlayBook tablet computer, RIM’s response to Apple’s market-leading iPad. The technical difficulties and marketing missteps have left PlayBook shipments at a little more than 1 percent of those for the iPad.

Heins said he plans to emphasize discipline in RIM’s execution to make sure the company sticks to schedules.

“When you say we’re bringing a product to market, you make sure you execute,” he said.

At Siemens, Heins rose through the ranks of research and development, customer service, sales and product management. He ran several units of Siemens’s communication business and also worked as the division’s chief technology officer.

Originally from Munich, Heins joined Siemens in 1984 after graduating from the University of Hanover. He is married and has two children, and his hobbies include bicycling, motorcycling, skiing and hiking.

Heins’s plan

Heins said his role will be in taking RIM “to the next phase.” Among his first moves, he said, will be hiring a new marketing chief to communicate with the consumer market.

With the transition to the new operating system, Heins says RIM, which dominated the U.S. smartphone market before Apple and Google entered it, will be able to compete more effectively for the customers it has lost. RIM’s share of smartphone sales dropped to 16.6 percent in the three months ending in November, according to ComScore. Google’s Android raised its share to 46.9 percent, and Apple increased its share to 28.7 percent.

“We will be working the consumer market, not at the expense of the enterprise,” Heins said. “I’m not here to retreat from the U.S. market. I’m here to take it up.”

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