The applause flowed following question after question; the applauding wasn’t a reception for a thoughtful, insightful, or clever answer from the lot of executives gathered on stage but rather served as a barometer of the spitefulness of the question asked. A shareholder who took the microphone near the stage wished the CEO well, but remained “very critical” of the direction he was taking the company was met with a bout of particularly thunderous applause.
Welcome to the Research in Motion annual general meeting.
In the midst of the shareholding many gathered in an auditorium at Wilfred Laurier University was Mike Lazardis, a founder of RIM and former co-CEO. Mr. Lazaridis’ seat in the crowd, and not with the executives on stage, is a testament to the company’s downward direction over the last year: RIM’s shares have dropped nearly 90% over the last 18 months while its market share has been cannibalized by the likes of Apple and Android.
This reactionary shakeup, which saw the departure of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, installed Thorsten Heins as CEO with board member Barbara Symiest assuming the position of chair of the board, which the ex-co-CEOs vacated.
Mr. Heins’ first big showing was in May at Blackberry World where he launched the Blackberry 10 OS.
In early July RIM announced that this device was to be delayed until 2013.
At the meeting, Ms. Stymiest did her best to quell frustration and marshall shareholders, while assuring the assembled crowd that the company’s board remains “very supportive” of Mr. Heins and his executive team.
“We believe the company’s executive team is well positioned to lead the company forward to face its current challenges and pursue the opportunities that lie ahead,” Ms. Stymiest said.
Although some analysts were expecting something of a coup-de-AGM from shareholders at the meeting, resistance was largely muddled and confined to activist investment firm Jaguar Financial.
Vic Alboini, CEO of Jaguar Financial, believes that RIM’s future lies in dividing the company up into separate entities.
“[The board] has to look at a break-up for the company into the handset business and the software and services platform, and a potential sale of either or both or private placement funding investments by giant competitors like Microsoft, IBM, or Facebook, “ Mr. Alboini told reporters.
“That will save the company,” he concluded.
The big surprise of the AGM wasn’t the instillation of a new board — as the previous board was re-elected — but the remarks given by CEO Thorsten Heins after he assured investors Blackberry 10 was on track.
Mr. Heins assured shareholders that RIM is working “around the clock” to ensure that it gets Blackberry 10 right. This was followed by a promise to cut costs, and streamline production, while building a device that tackles both QWERTY and the full touch screen experience.
“Blackberry already owns the QWERTY experience,” Mr. Heins said. “But we need more work on the full touch-screen experience.”
“I will not deliver a platform to market that is not ready to meet the needs of our customers,” he continued. “There will be no compromise.”
“I am not satisfied with the performance of the company over the past year.”