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Thorsten Heins: Into RIM's Ring of Fire

First-time CEO Thorsten Heins has a plan to save Research In Motion and restore the BlackBerry to the center of work life. And no, he’s not delusional
Thorsten Heins: Into RIM's Ring of Fire
Photograph by Finn O'Hara

On a recent Friday afternoon, Thorsten Heins, the 54-year-old chief executive officer of Research In Motion, entered a drab conference room at the company’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ont., and endeavored to explain why he was the right man for an impossible job. The newly anointed leader of Canada’s largest technology company is tall, walks with a stiff gait, and speaks with a German accent. In black shoes, black slacks, a black sports coat, and a black button shirt with the word BlackBerry emblazoned in white above the breast pocket, he looked like a corporate IT officer dressed up as Johnny Cash. Given the funereal gloom that hangs over Heins’s company, the somber tones seemed appropriate. Sitting in on the interview was PR executive Michael Sitrick, a crisis-management expert who often snaps up clients who are undergoing a bout of sub-optimal media exposure. Prior to RIM, Sitrick has represented the likes of Kobe Bryant, Ron Burkle, and Paris Hilton.

RIM’s troubles are hard to overstate. Its once-ubiquitous BlackBerry devices have been bleeding market share in the U.S. to Apple’s iPhone and to devices running Google’s Android software. Plunging U.S. sales have left RIM’s share of the global smartphone market at 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 14 percent a year earlier, according to research firm IDC. (A few weeks later, Heins announced that the company lost $125 million on $4.19 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, which ended on March 3.) Along the way, investors have largely lost faith in the former darling of the wireless communication world. RIM’s stock is down 79 percent in the past year and 91 percent from its 2008 high. In January, Mike Lazaridis, who founded the company in 1984 after dropping out of the University of Waterloo, and his longtime co-CEO Jim Balsillie stepped down. Rather than bring in a high-profile star from Silicon Valley, RIM’s board members promoted Heins, a soft-spoken chief operating officer who had joined RIM four years earlier.