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NOT IN 'MOTION'
The public eventually would start to catch wind of RIM's internal struggles. In June 2011, Boy Genius Report received and reprinted a letter that an anonymous RIM executive had sent to Lazaridis and Balsillie. Just like the sources who spoke to CRN, the letter's writer decried a corporate culture epitomized by loss of passion, low employee morale and a fear of speaking up. It also begged for change.
"To avoid this death, perhaps it is time to seriously consider a new, fresh-thinking, experienced CEO," the anonymous letter-writer said. "There is no shame in no longer being a CEO. Mike, you could focus on innovation. Jim, you could focus on our carriers/customers. ... They are our lifeblood."
After Boy Genius Report published the nearly 1,800-word letter, other RIM employees came forward, anonymously expressing identical woes. They also were made public, and their messages again stressed a need for transformation, more consumer-friendly products, and a change in management structure. The company is being "led by poor leaders," one employee warned. It is "no longer 'In Motion.' "
RIM responded to the slew of controversial emails in its company blog. After first speculating that the letters may have been "fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations," the company said that its senior management is "fully aware and addressing both the company's challenges and its opportunities."
The next blow came with RIM's failed attempt to launch a viable competitor to Apple's iPad tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook. The PlayBook is one of the most cited examples of the company's sometimes-sluggish route to market. PlayBook OS 2.0, a highly anticipated software update that promised to breathe new life into the struggling tablet brand with features such as native email and support for Android apps, originally was slated to launch in fall 2011. But on Oct. 25, 2011, RIM disclosed that the launch of OS 2.0 would be delayed.
Many fans were irate.
"I am a big RIM fan, but I am also a fan of good products," wrote one user in a forum on CrackBerry.com, an online community for BlackBerry users, in response to the delay. "I really believed the PlayBook would be the best tablet on the market, and in some respects it is. But what really bothers me is how RIM can willfully drag their customers along, making them believe that the PlayBook is a great device. They repeatedly broke promise after promise for the PlayBook, claiming false release dates for OSes and such."
The delay only added to RIM's pre-existing PlayBook woes. In December 2011, it disclosed that it was taking a $485 million charge due to weak demand for the tablet. A pre-tax provision was recorded in its third fiscal quarter, and it continued to sit on a "high level" of unsold PlayBook inventory.
THE BOARD COMES AROUND
On Jan. 22, 2012, with the deadline looming for the board to issue committee findings on its examination of its governance model, RIM disclosed that Balisllie and Lazaridis had stepped down from the company. Thorsten Heins, former co-COO, was named as its new president and CEO, while board member Barbara Stymiest was named as independent chair. One week later, the company released the report recommending the separation of the CEO and board chair roles.
Walker said NEI is satisfied with the result.
"At the end we got them to produce a report examining the question of combining the positions, and at the end of the day, the board came around and agreed with us that the roles should be separated, which they have done," Walker said. "To have somebody like Heins, who has been there for a while, but not that long, he knows the company surely. And he knows where the problems are and where the challenges are, hopefully, and he has some idea how to pull the levers."
*Names changed to honor requests for anonymity.
Robert Wright contributed to this story.