RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepping down, Thorsten Heins to become new CEO [UPDATED]

Alex Wagner
Editorial Director of News and Content from Omaha, NE
Published: January 22, 2012

RIM Jim Balsillie Mike Lazaridis

Well, this is interesting. According to a report out of the Wall Street Journal tonight, RIM says that co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie will be leaving their positions, with current COO Thorsten Heins expected to become the BlackBerry manufacturer's new CEO. Additionally, Barbara Stymiest will be replacing Lazaridis and Balsillie at the position of chairman of the board. Both Balsillie and Lazaridis will still be with RIM after the move, with Lazaridis set to become vice chairman of the board while Balsillie will remain on as a board member. The changes are said to have been recommended by Balsillie and Lazaridis themselves.

The changes are said to have been recommended by Balsillie and Lazaridis themselves, with Balsillie telling the Wall Street Journal that the move "was not a reaction" to RIM's stock price or investor pressure. Balsillie said that he felt that the timing of the shake-up makes sense because two major RIM projects — a revised PlayBook that's apparently coming "early this year" as well as BlackBerry 10 — are currently on track.

RIM has said that it'll continue to follow the plans put in place for it by Balsillie and Lazaridis going forward. "It's going to be continuity, but it's not going to be a standstill," Thorsten Heins explained. A source has told the WSJ that RIM "has no intent" to put itself up for sale to another firm. However, Heins did say that RIM would consider licensing BlackBerry 10 out to other manufacturers if the new OS gains popularity.

This move comes just days before the independent committee that's been evaluating RIM's leadership was expected to make a decision on exactly how to best fill the positions of CEO and chairman of the board. The fact that RIM's got both a new CEO and a new chairman is pretty big for the BlackBerry firm, and even though many folks have been calling for Balsillie and Lazaridis to step down for a while now, it's still kind of a surprise to actually see it happen. Now we'll have to sit and watch how RIM performs with Heins at the helm and Stymiest as the new chair. So far it sounds like Heins isn't going to be making any huge changes in the foreseeable future, so here's to hoping that RIM's got some awesome products in the pipeline, especially if its first BlackBerry 10 devices are still expected to be launching late in 2012. What do you all make of tonight's news? Think this was a good move by RIM?

UPDATED: And now we've got the full press release from RIM confirming the changes. You can check it out below.

UPDATE 2: Want to know more about the guy that's now at the helm of Research In Motion? A video introduction of Thorsten Heins has been posted by RIM and is embedded below.

Research In Motion Names Thorsten Heins President and CEO

•    Board Acts on Recommendation of Co-CEOs to Implement Succession Plan  

•    Mike Lazaridis Named Vice Chair of the Board

•    Jim Balsillie Remains a Director

•    Barbara Stymiest Named Independent Board Chair 

•    Prem Watsa Named Independent Director

Waterloo, ON – The Board of Directors of BlackBerry® maker Research In Motion (RIM) (NASDAQ: RIMM; TSX: RIM) today announced that, acting on the recommendation of its Co-Chief Executive Officers to implement the succession plan they previously submitted to the Board, it has unanimously named Thorsten Heins as President and Chief Executive Officer.  Mr. Heins was also appointed to RIM’s Board. The Board acted after conducting its own due diligence. Both appointments are effective immediately. 

Mike Lazaridis, former Co-Chair and Co-CEO, has become Vice Chair of RIM’s Board and Chair of the Board’s new Innovation Committee. As Vice Chair, he will work closely with Mr. Heins to offer strategic counsel, provide a smooth transition and continue to promote the BlackBerry brand worldwide.  

Mr. Heins said he looks forward to continuing to work with Mr. Lazaridis, globally recognized as a technology pioneer. He said, “Mike created a whole new way of communicating and I look forward to continuing our close collaboration.” 

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.”

Jim Balsillie remains a member of the Board. “I agree this is the right time to pass the baton to new leadership, and I have complete confidence in Thorsten, the management team and the company,” he said. “I remain a significant shareholder and a Director and, of course, they will have my full support.”

Mr. Lazaridis said that he decided to move from Co-Chair to Vice Chair of the Board in order to return the public’s focus to what is most important: “the great company we have built, its iconic products, global brand and its talented employees.”   

Mr. Lazaridis added, “Thorsten has demonstrated throughout his tenure at RIM that he has the right mix of leadership, relevant industry experience and skills to take the company forward.  We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens.  I am so confident in RIM’s future that I intend to purchase an additional $50 million of the company’s shares, as permitted, in the open market.”

Mr. Heins said he believes that RIM has tremendous potential.  He joined RIM from Siemens Communications Group in December 2007 as Senior Vice President for Hardware Engineering and became Chief Operating Officer for Product and Sales in August 2011. 

“Mike and Jim took a bold step 18 months ago when RIM purchased QNX to shepherd the transformation of the BlackBerry platform for the next decade,” Mr. Heins said.  “We are more confident than ever that was the right path. It is Mike and Jim’s continued unwillingness to sacrifice long-term value for short-term gain which has made RIM the great company that it is today.  I share that philosophy and am very excited about the company’s future.”

Mr. Heins said that RIM has a strong foundation on which to build. “We have a strong balance sheet with approximately $1.5 billion in cash at the end of the last quarter and negligible debt.  We reported revenue of $5.2 billion in our last quarter, up 24% from the prior quarter, and a 35% year-to-year increase in the BlackBerry subscriber base, which is now over 75 million.”

Mr. Heins said, “BlackBerry 7 has been well received.  We are very excited about PlayBook 2.0 and BlackBerry 10.  The reception of our products at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was encouraging.”  

He continued, “RIM earned its reputation by focusing relentlessly on the customer and delivering unique mobile communications solutions. We intend to build on this heritage to expand BlackBerry’s leadership position.”  

Mr. Heins said that RIM has grown quickly. “As with any company that has grown as fast as we have, there have been inevitable growing pains,” he said. “We have learned from those challenges and, I believe, we have and will become a stronger company as a result.

“Going forward, we will continue to focus both on short-term and long-term growth, strategic planning, a customer- and market-based product approach, and flawless execution. We are in the process of recruiting a new Chief Marketing Officer to work closely with our product and sales teams to deliver the most compelling products and services.”

Barbara Stymiest, who formerly served as a member of Royal Bank of Canada’s Group Executive and has been a member of RIM’s Board since 2007, has been named the independent Board Chair. John Richardson, formerly Lead Director, will remain on the Board.  Prem Watsa, Chief Executive Officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings, also was named to the Board, expanding it to 11 members. 

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Ms. Stymiest said:  “We believe that Thorsten is the right executive to succeed Mike and Jim.  He has 27 years of telecommunications experience, including four years at RIM in senior management positions.  As a Board, we have been impressed with his outstanding management skills, his leadership and his accomplishments within the company.” 

Ms. Stymiest also expressed the Board’s respect and admiration for Messrs. Lazaridis and Balsillie, the company they built, and the steps they have taken to position RIM for the future. 

“They created RIM, nurtured it, and in the process not only built an iconic brand, but literally pioneered the smartphone industry,” she said.  “It is Canada’s largest tech company and one of the largest in the world.”

Conference Call and Webcast

A conference call and live webcast will be held beginning at 8 am ET, January 23, 2012, which can be accessed by dialing 1-800-814-4859 (North America), (+1)416-644-3414 (outside North America) or through your personal computer or BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablet at www.rim.com/investors/events/index.shtml. A replay of the conference call will also be available at approximately 10 am ET by dialing (+1)416-640-1917 and entering passcode 4509630#. A replay of the webcast will be available on your personal computer or BlackBerry PlayBook tablet by clicking the link above. This replay will be available until midnight ET, February 6, 2012.

About Thorsten Heins

Thorsten Heins, 54, is a respected business leader with 27 years of broad experience and expertise in wireless networks and consumer electronics devices. Mr. Heins has a global reputation for his organizational and leadership skills and his ability to build successful organizations that deliver on their commitments. Prior to today’s announcement, Mr. Heins was one of RIM’s two Chief Operating Officers and, before that, Senior Vice President for the Handheld Business Unit.  He played key roles in the creation of RIM’s product portfolio. Mr. Heins came to RIM in December 2007 from the industrial conglomerate Siemens AG.  He joined Siemens in 1984 after graduating from the University of Hannover in his native Germany.  At Siemens, Mr. Heins rose through the ranks of R&D customer service, sales and product management positions.  After serving as Chief Executive Officer of various business divisions in the communication business, Mr. Heins moved to Chief Technology Officer and member of the Group Board of the Siemens Communications Group. He came to RIM after being impressed by the level of innovation displayed by founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. Mr. Heins is married with a daughter and a son. Away from RIM, he is usually outdoors bicycling, motorcycling, skiing or hiking.

About Barbara Stymiest

Barbara Stymiest has served as a director of RIM since March 2007.  She has an HBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, and an FCA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario.  Ms. Stymiest joined Royal Bank of Canada in 2004, where she served as a member of RBC’s Group Executive, which is responsible for the overall strategic direction of the company.  Prior to that, she held positions as Chief Executive Officer at TSX Group Inc., Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer at BMO Nesbitt Burns and Partner of Ernst & Young LLP.  Ms. Stymiest is currently a Director of George Weston Limited, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Royal Ontario Museum.  

About Prem Watsa

Prem Watsa is the Chairman of the Board of Directors and the Chief Executive Officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, a financial services holding company whose corporate objective is to achieve a high rate of return on invested capital and build long-term shareholder value, since 1985. He is also Vice President of Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel Ltd. since 1985. Mr. Watsa formerly served as Vice President of GW Asset Management from 1983 to 1984 and in various positions, ultimately as a Vice President, with Confederation Life Investment Counsel from 1974 to 1983.

About Research In Motion

Research In Motion (RIM), a global leader in wireless innovation, revolutionized the mobile industry with the introduction of the BlackBerry® solution in 1999. Today, BlackBerry products and services are used by millions of customers around the world to stay connected to the people and content that matter most throughout their day. Founded in 1984 and based in Waterloo, Ontario, RIM operates offices in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. RIM is listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market (NASDAQ: RIMM) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: RIM). For more information, visit www.RIM.com or www.BlackBerry.com.

Via Wall Street Journal