You’ve just been given the chance to run the only maker of smart phones and tablet devices that’s no longer considered trend-setting or innovative and whose previous track record has created huge expectations on the part of your shareholders and customers. Congrats!
Thorsten Heins, named the new CEO of Research In Motion last night, is the firm’s former COO and must be well aware of the challenges that face him. Among the largest will be that he is not a seasoned CEO parachuted in to shake things up at the BlackBerry maker. When things get as bad as they’ve gotten at RIM in the last year, the response is usually to recruit someone who has already established credentials at steering complex organizations through a massive change (see Meg Whitman at HP). Promoting a CEO from within is fine at a company like IBM, where the ship has been sailing so smoothly that a quiet leader like Sam Palmisano can gently hand over the reigns to Virginia Rometty with barely a ripple of interest from the outside world (The more bombastic transition from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook at Apple may be another story. Analysts and others have been calling for the heads of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie because they wanted to see disruption, not succession.
That said, there are a few things Heins can do in his first 100 days that could prove to the entire IT industry that RIM is still a contender:
Be visible: COOs are accustomed to cleaning up the mess behind the scenes while their bosses do damage control on the public relations side. Given that many people have no idea who Heins is, what his business style is, and his plans for RIM’s future, the more he can get in front of large groups of customers and analysts the better. That the news was announced after 9:30 on a Sunday night with little more than a press release is a bad sign. This would be a great time for Heins to open up a special account where BlackBerry users can send in their questions, which would be collected and answered as thoroughly as possible in an online Webcast. Who wouldn’t tune into that?
Get back to business: RIM has always struggled in the consumer space. Now even the more corporate environments are filled with consumer technologies. Instead of fighting it out over designs and marketing, RIM should build upon its recent announcement around the Focus smart phone management platform, as well as the Balance technology that could position RIM as the company that makes BYOD both possible and secure.
Build a bigger screen: Among other complaints, the seven-inch screen just didn’t resonate with the community at large. Yes, it fits in a suit jacket pocket, but no business person I know minds lugging around their tablet in a separate case. Seven inches is not a differentiator or a standard. RIM has lost that battle along with market share. Create something at least as a big as an iPad or maybe bigger. Create something foldable, perhaps, or that builds in a BlackBerry-like keyboard.
There’s a lot more to suggest, but something tells me Heins will be inundated with advice. Start with these three. And best of luck.