BlackBerry’s Chen Hires SAP Colleague Johnson for Sales Job

BlackBerry Ltd. named Eric Johnson to its top sales job, hiring one of Chief Executive Officer John Chen’s former colleagues to help the smartphone maker regain the confidence of customers.

Johnson is coming to BlackBerry from SAP AG, where he was a senior vice president in charge of the company’s global database and technology, according to a statement today. Johnson and Chen both joined SAP when it acquired their previous company, Sybase Inc., in 2010.

Chen is reassembling much of the old team that helped him turn around Sybase’s fortunes, a feat he’s attempting to repeat at BlackBerry, which has lost market share to Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. In December, Chen appointed Mark Wilson, a former Sybase executive, to lead marketing, and he hired John Sims from SAP to take charge of the enterprise business.

“The experience that the majority of the new leadership team has in working together previously will drive change within the organization at a faster pace,” Chen said in the statement. “I look forward to demonstrating these changes to the market.”

Still, BlackBerry faces an uphill battle, according to Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ittai Kidron, who cut his rating on the shares today to the equivalent of sell. The downgrade sent the shares down 4.1 percent to $8.40 at the close in New York. Even with today’s drop, the stock is up 13 percent this year.

‘Still Cautious’

“Chen’s downsizing and enterprise-software focused strategy is pragmatic, but we’re still cautious on his ability to successfully turn around the business,” Kidron said in today’s note.

Chen announced an agreement last month with Foxconn Technology Group to outsource production and design of BlackBerry to cut costs. The move was welcomed by investors, who sent the stock up 16 percent that day -- even though the company reported a 56 percent plunge in sales.

“We expect BlackBerry’s device shipments and subs to erode quickly before stability is achieved with the new strategy,” Kidron said.

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