RIM co-founders step down, not far enough away [Update]

Research in Motion

COMMENTARY Research in Motion (RIMM) announced that its co-CEOs would step down. Replacing Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis is COO Thorsten Heins, who joined the company four years ago from Siemens. The two men are also no longer co-chairmen. Instead, director Barbara Stymiest becomes chair, while Lazaridis is a non-operational vice-chair, and Balsillie remains a director.

But anyone who thinks these moves will really change the fortunes of the company has dialed a wrong number. The result is unlikely to be anything different from what the company has seen in the past few years and it only temporarily delays the inevitable need to break up RIM and sell off the pieces.

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Selling the story

Balsillie, Lazaridis and Stymiest, as they apparently told Bloomberg, claim that the change was an internal decision and nothing to do with the considerable outside pressure that institutional investors have brought to bear. (And, of course, companies don't announce significant management changes late on a Sunday because they want to bury the news as deep as possible.)

The official press release attempts to make the same point:

On the transition to CEO by Mr. Heins, Mr. Lazaridis said, "There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership. Jim and I went to the Board and told them that we thought that time was now. With BlackBerry 7 now out, PlayBook 2.0 shipping in February and BlackBerry 10 expected to ship later this year, the company is entering a new phase, and we felt it was time for a new leader to take it through that phase and beyond. Jim, the Board and I all agreed that leader should be Thorsten Heins."

Two words: Oh, please. Back in June, the Dynamic Duo made clear in an earnings call that no one could better lead the company than they.

Maybe someone should have asked whether they meant lead into a brick wall.

Nothing really changes

The only reason that Lazaridis and Balsillie officially stepped down is because things had gone so badly, with one savior product after another plowing head first into the dirt, they achieved something few CEOs ever accomplish: the utter destruction of every excuse available to them. But it's not as if the men will have no influence. They remain on the board and each owns about 5 percent of the company. That's a big say in the boardroom.

More importantly, Heins, former chief technology officer at Siemens, was first senior vice president of the handheld unit and then COO at RIM. He's been with the company since 2007. In other words, he should have seen all these problem coming and previously done something about them. After all, it was his responsibility.

Perhaps Balsillie and Lazaridis kept him from taking effective action. But if so, why has he been working there so long? If not, why didn't he do something to pull RIM out of its torpor? And what makes anyone think that things will be suddenly different at the beleaguered company?

[Update: If that evidence isn't enough, here it is from the new CEO's own mouth: "I don't think there is a drastic change needed."

You can also hear him tout RIM's innovation (sometimes it's too innovative) and the fact that the company has learned to execute:

Oh, and the new products have to ship on time. Uh, wouldn't that mean they were already on the market? Oh, details, details.]