RIM CEO on what went wrong and the future of BlackBerry

On June 28, Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins announced the company's latest financials in a particularly grim earnings call. Heins reported a first-quarter loss of $518 million, or 99 cents a share. Overall sales for the period were $2.8 billion, down from $4.9 billion in the same quarter a year ago, he said. And Heins announced RIM would be cutting roughly 5,000 employees.

These are dark days for the former king of mobile. But Heins isn't throwing in the towel just yet. With a major mobile platform launch expected in early 2013, Heins is optimistic that RIM and BlackBerry will turn things around. But he's also realistic about the significant challenges his company is facing.

Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins
Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins (Photo: Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

CIO.com Senior Editor Al Sacco sat down with Heins to talk about those challenges, what went wrong at RIM and how Heins plans to revive the company to make BlackBerry 10 a suitable rival to iOS and Android.

Al Sacco: Hi Thorsten.

Thorsten Heins: Hello, Al.

Before we get started I wanted to say thank you for your time. I know you're a busy man, and I appreciate you making some time for me.

My pleasure. It's good to talk to you.

Thanks. Let's get to it. I'm curious why you decided to take the helm at RIM, in what is so clearly a time of turmoil for the company? Do you have any past experience that's comparable to turning a company around the way you're attempting to revive BlackBerry?

When I came in to RIM, that was in 2007. I really admired the company for its innovation power and for the position it had achieved in the enterprise. What really caught me was that RIM was not just a device supplier, it actually had a real end-to-end solution. It had an offering that was going far beyond just the device. So I wanted to join the company to take it to the next level.

(Heins has been with RIM since December 2007, serving as a SVP of the company's handheld business unit and then as one of RIM's two chief operating officers until he took over the CEO in January 2012. For more on Heins, read, "10 Things to Know About RIM's New CEO.")

When I was asked to be CEO, I had a certain view on RIM from my position as the COO. I'm dedicated to this company. I think it has a lot of strength, it has a lot of power. It has trouble, it has challenges right now, and I just wanted to help the company through this phase and just make sure it remains a success--it will become a successful company again, let me put it that way. With the structure we've put in place and BlackBerry 10, I believe we can get that done.

To your second point, yes, I have experience in two turnaround scenarios. One was in 2002, when I was asked to take on the optical and transport division of Siemens AG. It was an aged portfolio, outdated, under heavy attack from Chinese competitors, and we turned it around. One and a half, two years later, it turned profitable, and then it became the most profitable division of Siemens actually. Kind of ironically, it got there because we innovated a great product and that set the role model for the world. All of the sudden, the avalanche just started and we couldn't even build enough of that product.

"I'm dedicated to [RIM]. It has a lot of strength, it has a lot of power. It has trouble, it has challenges right now, [but] it will become a successful company again."

It's kind of a parallel to RIM, too. I wouldn't say we have an outdated product portfolio, but certainly a platform that is coming to its limits. But we also have the innovation around BlackBerry 10 as a platform, not just for smartphones really, for enterprise, for mobile computing, and then for some hardware, too. So I see some parallels.

So, yes, I'm familiar with the situation, and I think I can claim that I have experience in leading a company and a division through this situation.

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