Can CEOs afford to say 'no comment'?

Summary:Mike Lazaridis, co-CEO and founder of Research In Motion (RIM), made news headlines this week after he abruptly ended an interview with BBC when the reporter began fielding questions about the company's security-related scuffles in India and the Middle East. The BlackBerry maker last year faced a potential service ban in the countries if it did not yield to the respective government's request to access data transmitted via the mobile device.

Mike Lazaridis, co-CEO and founder of Research In Motion (RIM), made news headlines this week after he abruptly ended an interview with BBC when the reporter began fielding questions about the company's security-related scuffles in India and the Middle East. The BlackBerry maker last year faced a potential service ban in the countries if it did not yield to the respective government's request to access data transmitted via the mobile device. RIM eventually reached an agreement with authorities in India as well as Saudi Arabia.

Mike Lazaridis in BBC interview
In the BBC interview, originally set up to discuss RIM's Playbook tablet, Lazaridis was visibly peeved when the reporter asked if the company's "problems with security" in India and the Middle East had been "sorted out". Calling the question "not fair" because it implied RIM had a security problem, Lazaridis responded: "First of all, we have no security problem. We don't. We've just been singled [out] because we're so successful around the world." He reached breaking point when the reporter pushed further, asking if RIM customers in those countries had "the assurance that everything is secured". "It's over. Interview is over. You can't use that. That's just not fair," Lazaridis said. "We've dealt with this. This is a national issue. Turn that [camera] off." Perhaps the 50-year-old Turkey-born Canadian was having a bad day, or perhaps he simply needed to use the gents urgently. But Lazaridis might have come out of the dialogue in better spirits if he had maintained his cool and explained why the BBC reporter was wrong to describe the issue as a security problem. Afterall, he was right. RIM's troubles in India and the Middle East weren't about a security issue on the company's part, but rather, had revolved around a country's public policies and national security. Lazaridis was probably livid that the BBC reporter didn't do his homework or had phrased the question incorrectly. But, surely, as the head of a major global organization, he would presumably have helmed countless media and analyst briefings, and chalked up plenty of experience dealing with "not fair" questions. He should have been prepared to deal with any query, good or bad. Storming off an interview is as good as saying "no comment" when, as the company's most senior representative, if you can't explain your organization's stance or actions, then who can? I've interviewed several C-level executives including CEOs from global companies that were leading players in their markets, and the ones who left lasting impressions were those who addressed every question forthrightly. They never gave "no comment" responses and dealt with thorny questions calmly, even if it was simply to explain that a certain issue was being addressed and more details would be provided at a later stage. I remember coming off a media roundtable once with the CEO of a major global hardware vendor, whom I had asked a couple of questions regarding the company's rumored plans to launch a new product line. After an awkward 3-second pause, he replied: "I have no comment for that." Stunned, I tried rephrasing the question but got another deadpan "no comment" response. I wasn't expecting much since it was a touchy topic and would have been happy even if he'd said, "We're get back to you on that when we're ready". A flat "no comment" just doesn't cut it when you're sitting at the top of company's ecosystem and perceived to be the only spokesperson with the authority to address any query on the organization.

Topics: Emerging Tech, BlackBerry, CXO, India, Security

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 15 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. Eileen majored i... Full Bio

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