When BlackBerry announced Nov. 25 that virtually all of its C-suite executives would depart the company, Twitter and the tech media exploded with jokes about rats abandoning sinking ships.
But the exodus of BlackBerry’s COO, CMO, and CFO could end up being a good thing for the struggling company.
“I thank Kristian [Tear, the Company’s Chief Operating Officer] and Frank [Boulben, the Company’s Chief Marketing Officer] for their efforts on behalf of BlackBerry. I look forward to working more directly with the talented teams of engineers, and the sales and marketing teams around the world to facilitate the BlackBerry turn-around and to drive innovation,” John Chen, the new executive chair and CEO of BlackBerry, wrote in a widely circulated statement following the dismissals. “I also thank Brian [Bidulka, its Chief Financial Officer] for his eight years of dedicated service to BlackBerry. I look forward to working with James [Yersh, replacing Brian Bidulka] and his Finance team as we move forward, execute on our plans and deliver long-term value for our shareholders.”
The rest of Chen’s statement emphasized BlackBerry’s cash holdings and its globally recognized brand, which he’ll leverage in an attempt to reverse the company’s declining fortunes in the mobile-device space. Part of that reversal, evidently, means bringing in fresh blood to the executive team. “I will continue to align my senior management team and organizational structure, and refine the Company’s strategy,” he concluded, “to ensure we deliver the best devices, mobile security and device management through BES 10, provide multi-platform messaging solutions with BBM, and expand adoption of QNX embedded systems.”
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins already cleared out at the beginning of the month to make way for Chen, who once served as CEO of Sybase.
Once a dominant force in the mobile-communications market, BlackBerry saw its market-share collapse thanks to the combined efforts of Apple iOS and Google Android, both of which seized the consumer market before making inroads among businesses. Three years ago, BlackBerry’s share of the smartphone market stood at 55.3 percent; today, it’s down to 2.7 percent, according to research firm Gartner.
Under Heins, BlackBerry bet everything on BlackBerry 10, its next-generation operating system that he felt could compete toe-to-toe against iOS and Android. That proved a fatal miscalculation, as branded devices loaded with BlackBerry 10 refused to sell, and the company ended up taking a $960 million write-down on unsold inventory.
With Chen in control, BlackBerry will retreat from the consumer arena and form an Alamo of sorts within the business-services market. Ejecting longtime executives in favor of new blood could be the first step toward making that retrenchment actually work.