Can CEOs afford to say 'no comment'?

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.

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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, CXO, BlackBerry, Security, India

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 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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4 comments
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  • "No Comment"



    (I am a CEO. There. I did it!)
    eapete-59bf6
  • That was tongue-in-cheek

    :)
    eapete-59bf6
  • Indeed: "eapete" you may have done this in jest, but, it 'jest' wasn't funny!
    Best example, of why MOST corporate types are not as extraordinarily successful as Steve Jobs...who ALSO knows the limitations of the head(less) Honcho diving into the mixture of mass media and public opinion unprepared/poorly prepared (Remember the Apple iPhone Antenna fiasco?!?)
    While you are at the steering wheel of the corporate vehicle, you should NOT answer or attempt to use the phone/talk to the press.
    RIM's CEO was ONE step away from handling this issue, properly; the reporters' comments may have been set forth proceeding from a false assumption - KEEP IT THERE! Blowing your cool elevates the misbegotten dialogue. The best CEO in the world right now - for purposes of dialogue and delivery, and often content, is President Barack Obama! He utterly personifies 'character cool' and the money media and half of America HATE HIM! (He refuses to have a Samuel L. Jackson moment as pundits say he should.)
    Withstanding all, he is as unflappable as a steel flag, as a concrete wind sock, there must be a mountain stream running through his veins! Hate him or not, he is not, NOT going to elevate another persons argument by doing anything that culls him from the camp of deep-freeze ,Jay-Z, 99-problems, brush-the-dirt-off-my-shoulders, Frosty-the-Snow-Man League of Cool! He has the world on his shoulders. Comparatively RIM is losing market share at high warp speed and HAS NO SHOULDERS!
    He is better than Mr. Steve Jobs because he WILL go into the Republican lion's den and dialogue with everybody and ANYBODY and, most importantly, speak laser-beam sharp focus to the REAL issues/core big-deal problem that most everyone else is hoping he and the media will not address.
    RIM needs a CEO who has at least a few hip-hop genes and can hit a three-pointer without a warm-up. All RIM's CEO Lazaridis knows how to do is cave ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NTP,_Inc.#RIM_patent_infringement_litigation) get heated and blow steam.
    Nuff said!
    ferrox@...
  • Well said! Agreed,
    eapete-59bf6