Can a single person save a formerly indispensable brand? Or will public perception and a rocky recent history overwhelm even the most competent executive?
Research in Motion's (RIM's) fall from state-of-the-art communications device maker to tertiary player in the mobile market was so sudden and so pronounced that it warrants a detailed explanation, and a turnaround specialist who works quickly. Instead, RIM promoted from within after its co-chief executive officers recently stepped down.

See The 5 Best Corporate Comebacks.

What happened, and how to fix it? Enter Thorsten Heins, a Siemens lifer and its former chief technology officer, who left to join Research in Motion five years ago. Despite his best intentions and his earnest appearance, the overwhelming consensus opinion is that the task ahead of Heins is impossible.

Will Heins Be What RIM Needs?
What's astounding is that the belief is almost universal: hardly anyone outside of Heins's immediate family thinks that Heins can make a difference. Then again, maybe that's not so astounding, given his unfortunate quote upon assuming control: "I don't think there is some drastic change needed." English is Heins's second language, but still. A company infamous for a recent network blackout and whose late-to-the-party tablet can't send nor receive email (without a BlackBerry attached, which would seem to defeat the purpose), needs to change drastically.

So what exciting, inspirational announcement did Heins assuage consumers and investors with upon taking office? He essentially told them to hold tight. BlackBerry's latest iteration of its operating system, BlackBerry 10, will be available in a few quarters. To hear Heins say it, a man with something of a vested interest in the outcome, it's going to be great. Unfortunately for RIM, the company doesn't have the luxury of telling its existing customers and potential new customers to wait. Not that a operating system update, especially a major one, can be rushed; however, it's not as if iPhone and Android (to say nothing of Nokia, Symbian and Windows Phone) are standing still and waiting for RIM to make a move.

RIM's financial statements back up the pessimism. They're not uniformly horrible, as revenue is up and shareholders' equity is moving in the right direction; however, net income is dwindling rapidly and if the trend over the last few quarters continues, a once mightily profitable company will soon start losing money. (For additional reading, check out 12 Things You Need To Know About Financial Statements.)

Rise and Fall
It's hard to imagine that there was a time when the company behind BlackBerry boasted the operating system of choice among professional users throughout much of the developed world. It's also hard to imagine how quickly the landscape changed. In four short years, the same forces that have spurred Apple's iPhone and Google's Android series of devices to positions 1 and 1A atop the mobile market, while rendering Hewlett-Packard/Palm's webOS dead on arrival, has left RIM in limbo. As of November 2011, the company's market share sits at around 6.5%, according to reports released from comScore. The stock has lost roughly 74% of its value in the past year. It's trading at an eight-year nadir.

RIM reached its peak in the early 21st century, thanks to a breakthrough concept easy to define and easy to appreciate: its signature product line allowed users to send and receive emails without being tethered to a workstation. Similar to most successful shift changes, the concept of mobile email then advanced rapidly throughout the industry. It went from unique technological marvel, singularly identified with RIM, to indispensable feature that every mobile phone user on every platform now takes for granted.

RIM positioned its devices as made for business, with push email, proprietary messaging and a full keyboard necessitating a small screen. That was in contrast to that flash-in-the-pan toy from Apple, a shiny glorified music player with a high-resolution screen, virtual keyboard and line of accessories.

Apple adapted, killing the perception of the iPhone as a non-business device before that perception had a chance to take root. The iPhone worked flawlessly with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, and exploited a huge structural deficiency of RIM's: what if I want to send messages to someone who has a device on a different platform? Google's open-source Android followed suit (so closely that Apple founder Steve Jobs's famous dying wish was to drive Android out of business.) As for RIM, with its dizzying number of models, most of which differed only superficially, even a de facto presidential endorsement couldn't save it. This lead to the company's fade from 43% market share into relative obscurity. Next stop, oblivion.

The Bottom Line
Heins can, and probably should, start slicing expenses mercilessly. (RIM's overwrought and ineffective advertising would be a good place to start.) However, he's stuck trying to sell obsolete products whose capabilities come up short against those of competitors' similarly priced devices. An unenviable position for any executive to be in, and perhaps one that there's no graceful escape from.

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    Project Manager: Career Path & Qualifications

    Learn more about what project managers job, the qualifications necessary for the position and the most common careers for these professionals.
  2. Professionals

    Common Interview Questions for Financial Auditors

    Identify questions commonly asked at financial auditor job interviews, and learn to formulate winning responses that give your candidacy a boost.
  3. Professionals

    How To Hire and Retain An Overqualified Candidate

    Understand how to hire and retain overqualified candidates by proactively seeking them out, discerning their motivations and then offering what they want.
  4. Professionals

    Common Interview Questions for Fixed Income Traders

    Discover a list of potential questions and answers commonly asked in job interviews for a candidate applying for a position as a fixed-income trader.
  5. Professionals

    Career Advice: Investment Banking Vs. Asset Management

    Compare and contrast investment banking and asset management as career opportunities, and understand which is a better fit based on your skill set and goals.
  6. Professionals

    The Best Financial Modeling Courses for Investment Bankers

    Obtain information, both general and comparative, about the best available financial modeling courses for individuals pursuing a career in investment banking.
  7. Professionals

    Credit Risk Analyst: Job Description and Average Salary

    Learn what credit risk analysts do every day and how much money they make on average, and identify the skills and education needed for this career.
  8. Professionals

    A Day in the Life of a Hedge Fund Manager

    Learn what a typical early morning to late evening workday for a hedge fund manager consists of and looks like from beginning to end.
  9. Financial Advisors

    Putting Your CFA Level I on Your Resume

    Learn techniques for emphasizing your CFA Level I status in the Skills and Certifications or Professional Development section of your resume.
  10. Professionals

    4 Must Watch Films and Documentaries for Accountants

    Learn how these must-watch movies for accountants teach about the importance of ethics in a world driven by greed and financial power.
  1. What qualities are necessary to be an effective member of the c-suite in a publicly-traded ...

    Several qualities are needed to be a member of the c-suite of a publicly traded company. The c-suite is business jargon term ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Which professional athletes are on pace to join Michael Jordan as billionaires?

    Michael Jordan is perhaps one of the most well-known and richest athletes in the world. However, two notable athletic giants ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How are Rupert Murdoch's holdings distributed?

    Rupert Murdoch owns a controlling share of News Corporation and over 750 different businesses. Some of the major brands he ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What does a merger or acquisition mean for the target company's employees?

    Suppose one sporting goods manufacturer merges with or acquires another sporting goods manufacturer. Before the merger and ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How did Bernard Baruch attain his wealth?

    Bernard Baruch obtained his fortune by investing in profitable stocks on Wall Street. Baruch is known as a legendary stock ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why was Bernard Baruch known as the "Park Bench Statesman?"

    As someone who preferred to conduct his meetings in informal settings and was led by persuasion rather than pressure, Bernard ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Cyber Monday

    An expression used in online retailing to describe the Monday following U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Cyber Monday is generally ...
  2. Bar Chart

    A style of chart used by some technical analysts, on which, as illustrated below, the top of the vertical line indicates ...
  3. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  4. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  5. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  6. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
Trading Center