Thorsten Heins, president and chief executive of BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion Ltd or RIM), has seen the enterprise smartphone leader lose ground rapidly in the last two years. In fiscal 2012, RIM generated revenue of $18.4 billion, down 7% from the previous year. Having been at the helm for over a year after taking charge in January 2012, Heins undertook a restructuring programme that involved trimming the workforce, rebranding and introducing BB10—a new platform, in a bid to restore the company to its former glory. But Heins’ troubles are far from over. Shares of Blackberry slipped this week after former co-CEO Jim Balsillie said he had sold his entire stake. Apart from this, Bloomberg reported this week that the China-based Lenovo Group Ltd had looked at the company as a potential acquisition.
At a media briefing in Waterloo, Canada, on 13 February, Heins explained his vision for BlackBerry and the reason for his optimism. Edited excerpts:
What made you take up the top job, given that you knew the odds fully well, having been with BlackBerry in senior positions since 2007? Have things improved?
The innovation to build a new platform for mobile computing was really what got me going. A year ago, I got a lot of good advice like put BlackBerry on Android, etc. But you cannot win in a mature market if you’re a ‘Me Too’ product. So we went about restructuring the company, changing processes, etc. Letting go of 5,000 people worldwide, yet keeping the company performing, was tough. I think we delivered in terms of aligning the company, giving it a direction and leadership. We still have some way to go. The restructuring gave us the ticket to race last year. Now we have to play to win.
But the BYOD (bring your own device) trend is challenging RIM’s strength in the enterprise space too…
That’s why we have BB Balance that offers a segmented service for enterprises and individuals to address the BYOD trend while not compromising on security that is a hallmark of BlackBerry.
How’s the response to the launches in the UK and Canadian markets?
I cannot give numbers since we are in the silent period. But I can say that the launch was very successful and better than expected. We have a whole new platform. Two years back we had nothing but 18 months later, we have 70,000 apps. In March, we will have more than 100,000 apps. We know that the numbers are low compared to our competitors (Apple Inc. and Google Inc.) but around 50% of the Android apps have only been downloaded once. We are aiming at our specific audience. Internally, we call them the BlackBerry people. Our 80 million subscribers want us to be successful. I need to serve them and that’s why we designed BB10.
What about the India market?
India is one of our very important growth markets. India is not only about cheap phones. It is also one of the leading software development countries. And it does not have too much of a legacy of wireline phones. As emerging markets move to 4G (fourth generation wireless technology), the BB10 platform will provide a means to do business.
What’s the way forward?
It is mobile computing. In 2009, you had the first full-blown smartphone, almost 20 years after the first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phone made its appearance. You have to look at BB10 devices in the same frame—mobile computing devices in the guise of a smartphone. It will put you in your own ‘Internet of Things’ (devices communicating with each other) world. Laptops will disappear eventually. By 2015, there will be an estimated 1.5 billion mobile workers. The mobile computing device will thus become an access device, may help you update your car software—around 60% of car software runs on QNX (RIM acquired QNX from Harman International Industries Inc. in April 2010. QNX software is used in embedded systems), or take care of your post-healthcare needs like reminding you to take your medicine on time. You will need a platform, a device, and a global secure network. We have all three. While not disrupting our existing business, we will be heavily investing into this vision of mobile computing.
(The author’s trip to Waterloo was sponsored by BlackBerry)