RIM COO retires as company lays off one-tenth of staff

Research In Motion announced on Monday that it will lay off 2,000 employees, or a little more than 10% of its workforce, and make changes to its senior management team. The company's chief operating officer for Blackberry, Don Morrison, will retire, but co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis will continue to share the CEO role and that of chairman.

The layoffs will happen this week in the U.S., while in other countries the downsizings may be delayed in order to comply with local employment laws, RIM said.

The job cuts will leave RIM with 17,000 staffers. Just five years ago, the company employed around 5,000 people, it said.

The company will disclose one-time charges associated with the layoffs when it publishes results for its fiscal second quarter on Sept. 15.

Morrison is on temporary medical leave and will retire without returning to the company. The management changes are being undertaken largely to cover for his departure.

His role will be split in two: Thorsten Heins will become COO for product and sales, adding sales and new engineering responsibilities to his portfolio. Previously in charge of the BlackBerry smartphone portfolio, he will take on responsibility for all hardware and software product engineering functions. Jim Rowan will become COO for operations, adding organizational development and facilities management functions to his existing responsibilities for manufacturing, global supply chain and repair services.

CIO Robin Bienfait and CTO David Yach will also take on additional responsibilities, while Patrick Spence will become managing director for global sales and regional marketing, reporting to Heins.

Two senior staffers untouched by the reshuffle are co-CEOs Balsillie and Lazaridis, who also share the role of chairman. The company was able to maintain the status quo at that level despite calls from shareholder groups for more clarity in the roles of the co-CEOs and for the appointment of an independent chairman.

RIM made a small concession to those shareholder groups on June 30, agreeing to create a committee of independent directors to propose a recommended governance structure for the company. In return, shareholder Northwest & Ethical Investments agreed to withdraw a proposal to divide the roles of chairman and CEO. As a result, RIM was spared an embarrassing vote at its June 12 shareholder meeting.

Peter Sayer covers open-source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for the IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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