27th Jan 2012

The First 100 Days of Thorsten Heins..

The company behind the Blackberry, RIM, announced an executive reshuffle on Sunday. Longtime co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who oversaw the company’s rise (it was worth over $70 billion not long ago), as well as its more recent fall from grace, have stepped down. They have been replaced by new CEO Thorsten Heins, an internal appointee who has four years with the company. 

Heins is taking the helm in heavy weather, and nobody, least of all him, can expect the first 100 days to be plain sailing. Though the shakeup was driven by pressure from investors, it has not won back their confidence; the value of the company’s stock dropped by a drastic 12% in the space of three days following the announcement.

RIM’s troubles originally began when it fell out of step with changing trends in the American smartphone market, while competitors cut in and took the lead. The company has been hemorrhaging market share, stock value and investors for the past two years.

Heins’ difficulties are compounded by the fact that Balsillie and Lazaridis have remained on the board of directors. It will be hard for him to effectively implement the radical changes that are needed in order to turn the company around with the two ex-CEOs sitting with him in the boardroom. Any changes he suggests could be perceived as criticism of his embattled but still influential predecessors.

Heins will have to handle this carefully, yet he can’t be perceived to be backing away from the need for change in the midst of a crisis. A preliminary sign of the danger inherent in this dilemma came in a statement Heins made during the week to the effect that no big change was necessary. This caused anxiety among investors and lead to the drop in share price.

Being an internal appointee can often make detaching from the previous role challenging – especially  in this case for Heins – with his former bosses sitting opposite him in the boardroom. But this is the essential first step to becoming an effective leader.

It is absolutely paramount in a situation like this for the new CEO to make a meaningful impact as quickly as possible. To this end he should contract up front with the board that he will be allowed the space and freedom to effect change. Then he needs to draw a line under the previous two years and draw up a detailed first 100 days plan that takes the company in a new direction.

Hilda Goold

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