CEO plans for 'lean, mean' RIM

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CEO plans for 'lean, mean' RIM
RIM chief Thorsten Heins.

Faces mounting criticism over delays, performance.

Research In Motion's new chief executive vowed on Tuesday to turn the embattled company into a "lean, mean, hunting machine" as he prepares to launch a new generation of BlackBerry devices next year.

Thorsten Heins, presiding over his first annual general meeting since being named chief executive in January, faces a formidable battle to put the smartphone maker back on track after a share-price swoon that has wiped away 80 percent of its market capitalization.

Heins acknowledged grumbles about the company's performance and shareholder frustration with the delay in the launch of the new phones until after the crucial holiday shopping season.

"I am not satisfied with the performance of the company over the past year," Heins said to a mostly subdued audience in Waterloo, Ontario, RIM's home city.

"Many of you are frustrated with the time it has taken us to make our way through the transition."

RIM virtually invented mobile email with its first BlackBerry devices more than a decade ago, but the BlackBerry's market share has evaporated as consumers flock to Apple's iPhone and devices based on Google's Android system.

The stock slipped five percent to $US7.29 on Nasdaq as investors digested news from the annual meeting.

RIM, which says it is examining all options — including partnerships, joint ventures or even the outright sale of the company — is pinning its hopes on a new line of devices that will run on a new operating system, BlackBerry 10.

Heins, who joined RIM from electronics giant Siemens AG and took over as CEO in January, expressed confidence that RIM was heading in the right direction under his new management.

"I have assembled a leadership team for RIM that's truly capable of taking us into future," he told shareholders.

RIM last month posted its first operating loss in eight years and said it was cutting 5000 jobs, almost a third of its workforce, as it struggles win back its reputation as an industry innovator.

At the same time company pushed back the launch of the BlackBerry 10 devices to next year from the final quarter of this year. Heins said the delay reflected RIM's determination to make sure that the devices were ready for the big time.

Strategic review

The annual meeting produced little in the way of fireworks from shareholders and few direct questions about how the company got itself into its current mess.

"There was no mention of a sale of the company, no mention of a breakup of the company, and again, our big, big concern is if the BB10s are a dud," said Vic Alboini, the chief executive of Jaguar Financial who claimed to speak for an ad-hoc alliance of disgruntled RIM investors.

"Where are we then?"

Heins said RIM plans to prune down its vast array of BlackBerry models to focus on high-end and mid-range devices that will come with either touchscreen or physical keyboards.

The company might be able to provide concrete answers to its investors on the outcome of the strategic review process "in a few months", the chief executive told reporters.

"There is a lot of action going on, looking at very different options for what the company could do," he said.

"When it's time to go public with it we'll go public with it."

Heins conceded that RIM would likely suffer lower average selling prices and declining service revenue this year as it pushes to sell existing BlackBerry devices.

Board members

Despite RIM's recent performance, the company's slate of directors were elected at the meeting with token opposition, although preliminary results showed a number of shareholder votes were withheld, including 19 percent for former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.

John Richardson had 30 percent of votes withheld, following the recommendation of proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis. It said Richardson, as lead director, had failed to properly oversee the provision of stock options to RIM employees, which were erroneously back-dated over an eight-year period.

Barbara Stymiest, the board chair, fielded a number of shareholder queries about how directors have performed. She expressed her confidence in her colleagues and pointed out that four of the board's 10 members have joined in the last year.

"That's a huge amount of change and part of the dynamic in managing any board is managing smooth transitions," she said, adding that RIM would consider adding new directors.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Writing by Frank McGurty and Euan Rocha; Editing by Peter Galloway and Janet Guttsman)


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