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RIM: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis step down, co-COO Thorsten Heins is the new CEO

RIM: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis step down, co-COO Thorsten Heins is the new CEO

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Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have each stepped down from their co-CEO positions amid growing turmoil in the company and fears it won't be able to rebound itself in time. They are replaced by one of RIM's two COOs, Thorsten Heins. Additionally, another board member, Barbara Stymiest, has replaced them as chairwoman of RIM's board.

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It looks like the shake up everybody has been expecting at RIM has finally come to pass. Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have each stepped down from their co-CEO positions amid growing turmoil in the company and fears it won't be able to rebound itself in time. They are replaced by one of RIM's two COOs, Thorsten Heins. Additionally, another board member, Barbara Stymiest, has replaced them as chairwoman of RIM's board. Lazaridis is now the vice chairman on the board and Balsillie also remains on the board, but "without any "operational role," according to Bloomberg. Both will retain significant shares in the company.

Jim Balsillie denied that the move was in response to the intense pressure on the company from stockholders, but that explanation seems unlikely. RIM also said that it wouldn't be changing course from its current strategy, which involved attempting to re-start the company with a brand new operating system later this year. In a press release announcing the change, RIM's new chairwoman praised the co-CEOs that so many have lambasted in recent months, "They created RIM, nurtured it, and in the process not only built an iconic brand, but literally pioneered the smartphone industry."

Heins has been at RIM since 2007, and regarding the company's future strategy, he told the WSJ that "It's going to be continuity, but it's not going to be a standstill." Before working at RIM, Heins worked at Siemens for 20 years. In an interview with Bloomberg, Lazaridis expressed confidence in Heins, saying that:

This marks the beginning of a new era for RIM. [...] It was a bit of bumpy ride. We’ve done it as best we could. Thorsten is the ideal choice. He has the right skills at the right time.

Heins also hinted that RIM would be willing to license the BlackBerry 10 OS if it found wide appeal, apparently confirming earlier rumors that the company was pursuing such a goal. However, it doesn't look like that decision will be happening immediately, if only because BlackBerry 10 is not ready yet. Heins told the New York Times that it would come before the end of the year, adding:

I can’t tell you how much effort, hard work it is to architecture a new platform, build it and bring it to market within 18 months’ time.

That's both encouraging and troubling for BlackBerry fans, who have watched development on the PlayBook drag on and who have not seen a clear story for the development of BlackBerry 10. If RIM has really only been working on this new OS for 18 months (or shorter, if Heins is referring to the actual release date later this yera), then as has been the case with RIM for some time, it's clear that critical decisions were made too late. It will be up to Heins to prove that RIM will be able to succeed despite those setbacks, or else the buyout rumors that have been swirling in recent months could come to pass. Business Insider says that a "person familiar with the matter" claims that RIM has no plans to sell.

In fact, the stay-the-course attitude seems to pervade RIM's announcement and interviews in a way that's similar to the confrontational stance RIM has taken with naysayers in the past. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Heins insisted that there was no need for radical change, saying "Change to what? Change for what?"

Hopefully for RIM, it will be a change to launching a successful, future-oriented smartphone as soon as possible.

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