Open letter puts RIM's woes in the spotlight

The BlackBerry maker has shrugged off criticisms in an open letter purportedly written by a high-level employee, as it faces shareholder unhappiness over its joint leadership
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor on

Research In Motion has downplayed an open letter from a purported high-level employee, which says the BlackBerry maker is failing because it needs a more open culture, an organisational revamp and a cut back in the number of projects in development.

BlackBerry Bold

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has downplayed an open letter from a purported high-level employee, criticising the company's strategy. Photo credit: RIM

The letter, sent anonymously to BoyGeniusReport, also calls the leadership of the company into question, just as an independent committee is set to consider the roles of co-chief executives and co-chairmen Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

"We are in the middle of major 'transition' and things have never been more chaotic. Almost every project is falling further and further behind schedule at a time when we absolutely must deliver great, solid products on time. We urge you to make bold decisions about our organisational structure, about our culture and most importantly our products," the purported RIM employee said in the letter, published on Thursday.

RIM has seen lacklustre reviews for its PlayBook tablet, which launched two weeks ago, around the same time that the Canadian hardware maker said that it was continuing to see a slowdown in sales. In its first-quarter financial report, RIM said it would see delays in new product introductions into late August and it would make job cuts over the summer.

The letter also pleaded for more focus on the end-user experience, saying the handset maker often made decisions based on "strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice".

"Let's start an internal innovation revival with teams focused on what users will love instead of chasing 'feature parity' and feature differentiation for no good reason (Adobe Flash being a major example)," the writer said. "When was the last time we pushed out a significant new experience or feature that wasn't already on other platforms?"

Let's start an internal innovation revival with teams focused on what users will love instead of chasing 'feature parity' and feature differentiation for no good reason.
– Open letter to RIM

RIM shrugged off the criticisms and suggestions in the letter, while noting that it did not know for certain it was written by an employee.

"Regardless of whether the letter is real, fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations, it is fair to say that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company's challenges and its opportunities," the company said a response posted to its website on Thursday. "RIM recently confirmed that it is nearing the end of a major business and technology transition.

"Although this transition has taken longer than anticipated, there is much excitement and optimism within the company about the new products that are lined up for the coming months," it added.

Pressure at the top

However, the letter echoes general concerns about RIM and its performance against Android phones and the iPhone. In recent weeks, it has come under investor pressure to split the company's chief executive and chairman roles, which are shared by Lazaridis and Balsillie.

A proposal from Northwest and Ethical Investments (NEI) suggested that the role of chairman and chief executive be divided and the chairman role be made independent. RIM was due to discuss the leadership concerns at its annual general meeting on 12 July.

However, NEI and RIM said on Thursday that they will form an independent committee to investigate the concerns, instead of bringing them up at the annual general meeting. The committee will look into the chairman and chief executive roles, and assess the corporate structure of the company.

The committee is expected to issue its report before 31 January, 2012, after which the board will have 30 days to publicly respond to the suggestions.

In the letter, the purported RIM employee blamed the dual leadership for the company's slowness to respond to threats from competitors.

"The public's questions about dual-CEOs are warranted. The partnership is not broken, but on the ground level, it is not efficient. Maybe we need our Eric Schmidt reign period," the writer said.

"Over-confidence clouds good decision-making. We missed not boldly reacting to the threat of iPhone when we saw it in January over four years ago. We laughed and said they are trying to put a computer on a phone, that it won't work. We should have made the QNX-like transition then," the writer said. "We are now three-to-four years too late. That is the painful truth... it was a major strategic oversight and we know who is responsible."

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.
Editorial standards