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I have been cutting Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) co-CEO Mike Lazaridis a lot of slack. Tasked with fighting a smartphone war his company doesn't seem capable of winning, Lazaridis was always the tech-savvy half of RIM's leadership team and might actually pull a magic trick out of his hat at some point to turn the company's flagging fortunes around. I even thought he'd be a good choice for the CEO position at global handset leader Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , based on his technical focus.
I'm done defending Lazaridis now. Onstage at this week's Dive Into Mobile industry conference, he came across more as a clueless spin-meister than a brilliant technologist. That is not how you save a dying dinosaur from extinction.
Lazaridis got caught in a cross fire of withering questions from noted industry watchers Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, often unable to defend RIM's honor at all. For example, when asked about how Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) stole BlackBerry's thunder, Lazaridis fell back to explaining how global his brand was. He wouldn't say much of substance about the timing and pricing of the Playbook tablet, and managed to confuse his seasoned interviewers more than he explained RIM's software strategy.
Perhaps most damning of all, the clear answers Lazaridis did give rarely made him look good. The BlackBerry platform looks ready to split into two software foundations (or perhaps more), but all of it will be sold under the BlackBerry name. Confusing the customer is not smart salesmanship.
BlackBerry was unique years ago, before Apple introduced the first iPhone and Google got the Android ball rolling. Now, the last believable argument for buying a BlackBerry is that its security features are second to none -- but even there, the competition is catching up fast. RIM needs to find a way to set its products apart from what Apple, Google, Nokia, and others can produce or else fall out of favor with every section of the addressable market. Judging by this embarrassing performance, Lazaridis appears to be out of touch with what consumers and corporations are looking for.
Lest you think I'm jumping to conclusions, let me point out that RIM's shares are down 2% on a generally flat market day for tech stocks, while rivals Apple and Google stayed level and Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) even gained a fair bit. I can't be the only observer drawing these conclusions from Lazaridis' appearance.
Does Mike Lazaridis deserve yet another chance or does he truly belong in my doghouse? Discuss in the comments below.