BlackBerry 10 main priority, will shift focus to mobile computing later: Thorsten Heins, RIM

One of world’s most keenly followed CEOs, Research in Motion’s Thorsten Heins, on the hows and whys of BlackBerry’s resurrection.
One of world’s most keenly followed CEOs, Research in Motion’s Thorsten Heins, on the hows and whys of BlackBerry’s resurrection.
As Thorsten Heins strides into the room, he literally holds BlackBerry's future in his hands. Along with a tablet and a notepad, the President and CEO ofResearch in Motion (RIM), holds the nextin-lineBlackBerry 10 platform powered phone, one of the devices that are supposed to be the company's make-orbreak bet. Just eight months back, the 54 year old Heins, who joined RIM from Seimens in 2007, suddenly found himself thrust in the corner office as co-foundersMike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie stepped down after much investor cacophony over rapidly deteriorating results.

The Canadian company, punch drunk on its success, was caught unawares when the troika of Apple, Google (with its Android operating system) and Samsungchanged the rules of the handset business with new innovations. Black-Berry slipped, and how. Within five years, the iconic company , once a Wall Street darling and often cited as a gamechanger, saw its market share slide dramatically and share price plummet from all-time high of $147 to sub- $7.

After taking over, the 6'6" tall soft spoken chief executive has had to take some hard decisions — announce a 5,000 employee layoff, delay the launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform devices, and rationalise the global manufacturing network. Heins even had to oversee what was once unthinkable, a loss-ridden quarter. With the world watching his moves, Heins has been making deliberate choices as he sets RIM on a new course.

While analysts are already writing Blackberry's obituary, the embattled leader has the demeanour of a man who has calmly kept the cards close to his chest and is now awaiting the final show of hands. In India to meet telecom carriers ahead of the big launch, Heins talks candidly about BlackBerry's turnaround plans, making tough choices, and of course his chances of succeeding . Edited excerpts:

Do you think that RIM now has THE product around which the turnaround story can be scripted? 

It's not only about having a product but having the right platform to grow the company profitably. That's why we took the hard way. Everybody advised me to embrace Android . I don't know how many emails I get saying 'why don't you put BlackBerry services on Android?' I am so happy I didn't . Look at the Android camp now. Frankly, this all goes back to Mike Lazaridis' innovation because he built a very successful architecture and platform. RIM is not just a smartphone provider. We have devices, we have networks, we have a management system for these devices. It's all part of BlackBerry solutions. If I provide BlackBerry solutions to my customer base, I can't cut my leg and come up with something that everybody else has. Then there would be no differentiation any more.

At what stage are we today in RIM's turnaround? 

We still have significant regions of growth, like the Asia-Pacific and Latin America. We are leaders in South Africa. So turnaround, I would mostly say, is in North America, which moved very quickly to 4G LTE. It also led the innovation in touch devices. We were busy building our global portfolio. Within five years, we got from $5bn to $20bn revenue. But we were a bit caught in those developments. So marketshare in US was heavily deteriorating and it's likely to deteriorate . This will not change till we get BlackBerry 10 out of our door in North America. From a company perspective, given the financial results, you can make the point that we need to turn around the company from the profitability perspective.

So what's the plan? 

That decision was made 18 months ago when we looked at our current BlackBerry platform and operating system. The question was figuring out where the future lay and what's the next wave of innovation. We truly believe that we are at the next inflection point in the mobile industry. I have been in the mobile industry for 27 years and we have all gone from analog to digital. While GSM was a huge success , we moved on to EDGE. We went to 3G and now we have 4G, already implemented in US. The industry will move from mobile communication, where we are today, to mobile computing. This is not your mobile phone anymore (holding his phone), this is your mobile computing device.

Think about this from an enterprise perspective. I have my device on my hip, no desktop, no laptop and services are being played down from the cloud. The future is mobile computing; smart phones and tablets are just elements of it. The industry is on the verge of a whole new paradigm. It's fascinating and energizing. That's a decision we took 18 months ago to build a new platform. Our new BlackBerry 10 devices will not have a smartphone platform but a mobile computing platform. That's why we chose the hard way, build Blackberry ground-up . We wanted to innovate for the next 10 years.