Thorsten Heins: RIM Needs To be Lean And Mean

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Thorsten Heins RIM Blackberry lead

Research In Motion CEO talks about trimming the fat and playing to win

Speaking at the annual  BlackBerry World event in Orlando, Florida, Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins dispelled the notion that the company would rid its BlackBerry devices of their physical keyboards.

“We are not abandoning the BlackBerry physical keyboard,” Heins told reporters at the show, adding that RIM is about to undergo a major change that he hopes will grow both its enterprise and consumer customer base.

On the second day of BlackBerry World 2012, Heins discussed RIM’s focus and the need for a clear direction. Since he first joined the company four years ago, it has grown from around 6,000 people to being more than 20,000 employees strong.

“With that kind of growth, it becomes easy to lose efficiency. Everything becomes something you want to pursue because everything is so exciting,” said Heins during a meeting with reporters. “Now, RIM has a little fat on the hips and we need to be lean, mean,” he added.

Keyboards forever

Some slimming down certainly occurred in January, when Heins replaced longtime co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. RIM now plans to “line everything up” under just one chief operating officer, and to hire a top-gun marketing specialist.

Heins also effectively pushed the idea that RIM’s inability to deliver in recent quarters was due to internal inefficiencies—both the bloat of extra people and the constant need for consensus; too many meetings but too few people making decisions— and the tough but necessary choice to pursue a new platform, the BlackBerry 10. With developer versions of smartphones already in circulation, the new platform will arrive later this year.

However, among all these difficulties, Heins claimed that company morale is up. “People needed focus,” he explained, in a comment that followed RIM’s most recent earnings call. Some media outlets mistakingly reported that RIM was getting out of the consumer game to focus on its enterprise customers.

“That is absolutely not true: RIM is not leaving the consumer business,” Heins said, explaining that there were “many things on the consumer side that were nice to do, but not core to the business.”

Heins revealed that eighteen months ago, RIM had arrived at the conclusion that BlackBerry 7, while being a fantastic platform, had reached its potential. “We have no choice, as tough as it is. We have to build a new mobile computing platform for the next decade,” he said.

Finding the way

To create the next platform, RIM purchased QNX— a “micro-kernel” OS that hadn’t been allowed to splinter, Android style, and was being used by 95 percent of all car brands and present in 60 percent of cars on the road. From there, RIM employees made tremendous personal sacrifices to develop the platform, trying to compress a process that normally takes years.

Now, RIM finds itself on what executives feel is the right road, but not yet at its destination. “We have a lot of hard work still ahead of us,” said Heins. “We still need to integrate it. We need a lot of test time—we call this hip time—and then the reports flow in.”

Once BlackBerry 10 arrives later this year, a dedicated team of a “few hundred” employees in Raleigh, North Carolina, will continue to support BlackBerry 7 users “for a while.”

The new OS, according to Heins, will also have localization teams dealing with country-specific adaptations of devices and software. Another cool feature of BB10—a detail left out of yesterday’s presentation—is that “it’s very easy for the keyboard to detect what your native language is.”

Heins said he had no comment regarding the potential of licensing BlackBerry 10 to RIM’s hardware partners, such as Samsung. “First,” he said, “I need to prove BlackBerry 10 to my team.”

Heins said he didn’t want to dwell on the problems that got RIM where it is. “We don’t have an LTE [Long-Term Evolution] product yet. We probably innovated too much in our touch solutions … But we are where we are.”

He added that he “absolutely expects” RIM to regain its market share. “We are here to win,” said Heins. “I’m not here to simply be in the game.”

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