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RIM Names Operating, Marketing Heads as Turnaround Sought

RIM's New COO Kristian Tear
Kristian Tear, newly named chief operating officer of Research in Motion Ltd. Source: Research in Motion Ltd. via Bloomberg

Research In Motion Ltd., bolstering its executive ranks as the BlackBerry maker attempts a turnaround, named a Sony Corp. manager as chief operating officer and a LightSquared Inc. official as head of marketing.

Kristian Tear, a former executive vice president at Sony Mobile Communications, will take the operations job, Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM said today in a statement. Frank Boulben, who was executive vice president at LightSquared after a career at European wireless carriers, will be chief marketing officer.

The appointments are the first major personnel additions for Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins, who took charge in January from co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. While the new executives bring global experience, they both come from companies that have struggled themselves. That makes it hard to tell if they can orchestrate a comeback, said Sameet Kanade, an analyst at Northern Securities Inc.

“Neither of these professionals have been involved in a successful turnaround of this magnitude,” said the Toronto-based analyst, who has a sell rating on RIM’s stock. “We expect these appointments to benefit RIM’s international strategy more than the immediate short-term need, which is to fix its product strategy and regain market share in North America.”

BlackBerry 10

The company is banking on the BlackBerry 10 operating system to resurrect its smartphone lineup, which has lost market share to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Google Inc.’s Android. RIM’s sales tumbled 25 percent last quarter, with U.S. revenue plummeting more than 50 percent.

RIM’s share of U.S. smartphone subscribers shrank to 12 percent in the period, making it a distant third in the industry, according to ComScore Inc. Android accounted for 51 percent of the market, while the iPhone had 31 percent.

RIM’s stock rose 1.6 percent to $12.01 at the close in New York, following five days of declines. The shares have lost almost three-quarters of their value in the past year.

Before his stint at Sony, Tear worked for Ericsson AB in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

“Sony, for all intents and purposes, is out of the smartphone game and we expected an appointment of a COO to be made from a caliber of strong potential candidates within the North American arena,” Kanade said. Boulben, meanwhile, has experience with wireless carriers, which may be helpful during the introduction of BlackBerry 10 phones this year, he said.

Boulben oversaw brand and consumer marketing at LightSquared, a company that is considering bankruptcy after failing to get regulatory approval for its nationwide wireless network. Before that, he worked for European carriers Vodafone Group Plc and Orange SA.

Boulben expressed confidence today that the BlackBerry could become relevant again.

“We all know how fast the mobile arena evolves and with the BlackBerry 10 platform, I believe RIM will once again change the way individuals and enterprises engage with each other and the world around them,” he said in the statement. “I could not resist the opportunity to be part of that transformation.”

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