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RIM CEO Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot

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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.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (22) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 8:19 PM, me12ze wrote:

    I fully agree. RIMM cannot even design a user-friendly phone, forget about the technical competition. I will be surprised if RIMM has any significant market share in 5 years from now.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 8:22 PM, isellwireless wrote:

    Really MF? This is the kind of article that you publish?

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 8:30 PM, runwild61 wrote:

    The captain of the Titanic was quite confident in his abilities as the ship was sinking much the same as Mike Lazaridis. Of course, the captain paid the ultimate price, but I'm sure Mr. Lazaridis will wind up quite comfortable after the demise of RIMM.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 8:55 PM, gehenom wrote:

    Lazardis isn't a great talker. RIMM is in turmoil. But it may recover. If the new OS and the design team they just bought and put together something compelling, easy to use, and easy to write apps for, then they can salvage the market share they have. And that's not a huge "if" because they already have the expertise - they just need to execute.

    On the other hand, the space is getting crowded - RIMM is behind Apple, Android, Windows Phone 7, and even Palm/HP in vying for the attention of developers and purchasers. So they need to get rid of OS6 yesterday and roll out all-touchscreen devices (some with keyboards, a la Android) today.

    If they can do it they are worth their pitiful PE ratio. It's tough to short them because they're still in the game and their ratio is pathetic anyway.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 9:06 PM, etgh wrote:

    "turn the company's flagging fortunes around"

    "he came across more as a clueless spin-meister"

    "RIM's shares are down 2%"

    Gee, no bias with this "analyst".

    Bashing RIM, how unique, And just before RIM announces its latest quarter results. Gee I wonder if that was just a coincident. I wonder if they’re going turn in another record quarter…..just like the last five. Of course, this same “analyst” will pour over the results and look for some tiny financial dark spot and “expose it to the world !”

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 9:18 PM, powerphrase wrote:

    What you trying to do, bad mouthing RIMM so stock goes down, I do not like stocks and do not want to Invest my money into stocks but as a consumer I want to defend RIMM because They make excellent smart phones, it does not matter what Mike Lazaridis says it is all about quality of the product. I have used so many different kinds of phone including anderiod and Iphone but now I am extremely happy with my Blackberry Torch. Some people bashing RIMM for their personal gain, I assure you you won't be successful, watch up coming Blackberry playbook and future smart phones. One thing I noticed about the so called analysts they criticize Blackberry in such a way any people will understand it is not constructive criticism rather a personal attack. All those RIMM haters bound to fail

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 10:07 PM, FreeRange1 wrote:

    What a bunch of obnoxious and clueless RIMM supporters posting here. This company is a dinosaur! And what you and they don't understand is that its about the entire ecosystem, not the hardware or software alone. And in this area, RIMM is way out of touch and way behind. Their users will continue jumping ship. Buy one get one free does not build a sustainable market and consumers are smart enough, when they really understand the other options, that RIMM is a poor choice. RIMM has been posting these numbers based on expansion into new countries, not by expanding their base in existing markets and that's the key point of this piece.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 11:03 PM, mkj1928 wrote:

    I've been a Blackberry owner for quite some time now and after using my friends Samsung Android it's clear RIMM needs to get with the times. I 'm not gonna bash RIMM like a child but come on, they have a large hill to climb when it comes to impressing consumers.

    I have mixed emotions about the iphone but I went to the mall in Milwaukee last weekend and the number one store was the apple store. I couldn't even get inside, apple does have a great following.

    The playbook sounds interesting but I'm sure apple will fire right back with something better.


  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 11:07 PM, Bolzi wrote:


    Why worry about stealing 2, 3, or 4% share of an insanely competitive, over saturated market in the US with a population of only 360 million people when the alternative is so much more compelling from a business point of view.

    The alternative of course, is expanding into countries like Indonesia, India, China where the cumulative population population totals 2.5 billion. In these countries, where people are more concerned about business and increasing their quality of life RIMM stands out. In the US, a very large portion of the market is primarily concerned about fart applications, tweeting a picture of their dinner, or updating their Facebook status. For these reasons, flashy phones have become standard in the market and have more appeal, as expected.

    The asian economies that have lagged with respect to quality of life, are more concerned about productivity and are more conducive to growth. Business security & productivity are at the forefront of the needs for these countries and RIMM more than anyone is set to capitalize on that.

    I'm not here to say RIMM is better than Apple or Google or Samsung or vice versa, each company has their own great products that appeal to different markets. Each company will target markets where the net benefit to shareholders is maximized.

    A good company does not automatically make it's equity a good investment, if its fairly valued (or in the case of most growth companies, seriously over valued). When you look at the fundamentals for RIMM at the moment, it represents a much more attractive investment opportunity than most of its direct competitors.



  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 12:57 AM, whatamoron wrote:

    Anders, I will resist the urge to make fun of you despite how tempting it is because it's too easy.

    I will only challenge you on one point. You do realize that Balsillie and Lazaridis are co-founders and own millions of shares of RIMM each, don't you?

    Why would either of them vie for the position of CEO of Nokia?

    It's a good thing you pulled back your recommendation to put him forward to lead Nokia. LOL. I am sure he was looking forward to competing with the company that he founded and owns millions of shares in.

    Please do a tiny bit of research before you publish your articles. I am asking nicely.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 8:46 AM, sk8ertor wrote:

    Wow, the author of this article is definitely a FOOL! This article is absolute nonsense. I saw a video of the interview and I did not come to the same conclusions at all. In fact, Kara and Walt are the ones who are clueless and appeared to not understand technology. Mike was not talking in any language that should have been over their heads yet they failed to understand how it worked. That's not to say they were not impressed by the PlayBook because they definitely were. This author is trying to paint a dark picture of Mike - a personal attack I would say. This author is completely unprofessional and biased. I'm not really surprised by this because all articles bash RIM. The only conclusion I come to is that and this author must be shorting RIM stock because none of their articles make sense.

    I use a BlackBerry and most of my friends have BlackBerrys. Only two of my friends have iPhones. One loves his iPhone. The other has said he will not get another iPhone due to all the dropped calls. Out of all my friends who have BlackBerrys, they all love their phones, even without OS6. This author and is completely out of touch with the consumer and the needs of the consumer and competely biased in their articles.

    Shame on!

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 10:58 AM, rickyj32 wrote:

    Interesting article. Tough to read after the first paragraph where he supported Mike to be the CEO of Nokia. Watched the interview and the problem was that the interviewers wanted Mike to say RIM made big mistakes and is becoming an also ran in this field. The CEO is not going to say that. Especially with the company growing 30 percent a year. They are not going to say the are behind the competition. This product cycle was not great for RIM, but that does not mean the next will not be. The playbook is a step up on other tablets, and the technology should be transferable to the next generation. The smart phone war is ongoing and the tablet war has just began.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 11:40 AM, SEDONA01 wrote:

    WOW!!-- As a consumer, I found this article unnecessarily negative towards RIM. I haven't seen the video, but I agree with skbertor-- there must be some ulterior motive like shorting RIM stock for the Fool to publish something like this.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 12:22 PM, TotallyBiased1 wrote:

    Montly Fool...Your Articles are Truly Objective and bring up all the important Facts.... Oh yeah, that's Zack' . As for you guys, I see that your site (if you can even call it that) supports Android and Apple as you have stated. So this is the obvious reason why YOUR articles are totally Biased, One-sided, factLESS, and like to pick apart people in interviews to more or less say what idiots they are ? do i pertty much got the gest of it ? No, I don't think my words can sum up or convey what i think most of the viewers of your articles think. Your site is a Joke, and an obvious place that likes to make money from shorting or trying to eliminate competition. For instance you said "Lest you think I'm jumping to conclusions, let me point out that RIM's shares are down 2%". Ok, lets take this for instance. why, you might ask. Maby because two so-called journalists knocked Rimm with apparent downgrades, but yet increased their estimates. And they didn't say anything new. Same old reasons! It's a pity people actually listen to people like you instead of looking at funtamentals and thinking for themselves ! Of coarse there are people like "infothathelp" that are so blinded they can't see anything beyond their iphones in front of their noses. dmkj928. you said "I've been a Blackberry owner for quite some time now and after using my friends Samsung Android it's clear RIMM needs to get with the times". dmj928, have you even tried the OS6 with the torch, the browser, universal search, etc? Excuse me, but you don't know what you are talking about. And then some. ", they have a large hill to climb when it comes to impressing consumers." You said this too. I'm sorry, dmj, but where im from people paid full prices for the torch, they love the system so much. Almost everybody i know have BB's and love them. I have no reason to lie. Impressing consumers, They Are ! Why don't you clowns tell me what the Samsung and iphone can do that the Torch Can not ! I have looked at both phones, their nice, but I still think the OS6 and Torch is better. And many people agree with me. Then I will tell you what BB OS6 has that those phones don't have. So Please I really get upset when people cut other peoples Interviews all up to just say their Stupid. And say their company is a Dinosaur just to try to advance their own fav stocks. When in reality, it is more advanced. What a SHAM this site is ! It is based on objetive research, its based on biased hate literature.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 12:27 PM, TotallyBiased1 wrote:

    Last quote should state. " It is NOT based on objetive research, its based on biased hate liturature".

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 1:48 PM, minisarecool wrote:

    For those in the US not shorting RIM - when will you look past your borders and realize that there are actually emerging markets to serve?

    Seems to me that the Apple Brainwashing School is still open...

    All the Best...

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 2:18 PM, 2fast4u1 wrote:

    the grammar within my last post is at the level of your understanding. you should be able to understand it retard

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 7:21 PM, GetOffTheKoolaid wrote:

    "Is it an iPhone? I want the one with the bigger Gee bees."

    One day, the less informed people will realize that you don't have to have eat the biggest piece of the pie to be full. This is particularily important and true when the "pie" that is the smartphone market, is growing as fast as it is.

    Nokia couldn't phase out Motorola

    McDonalds couldn't phase out Burger King

    Pepsi couldn't phase out Coke

    ... and vice versa for all the above.

    What makes Apple/Google so special?

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2010, at 9:08 PM, lonewolf1313 wrote:

    I own a Samsung Instinct and their customer service is non existant and default installed voice software is faulty. They offer nothing to fix the faulty software. 1 year left on a contract and bye bye Samsung! I have to illegally dial while driving.

    I know Iphones work and BlackBerrys.

    I'll save the data plan and go with a Blackberry next.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2010, at 9:03 AM, Borisbmx wrote:

    more garbage from MF. when does MF every publish a useful article?

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2010, at 9:27 AM, woodenboatguy wrote:

    "Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), the maker of the Blackberry smartphone, gained 0.67% to $61.70 after Wunderlich raised its target price to $76. The firm said that it expects a solid third quarter and outlook. The firm retail checks indicate smartphone market growth is becoming more price sensitive, with advertising, lower retail prices and improvements since the launch of the BlackBerry 6 operating system, the mid-range smartphones that RIMM supplies are gaining popularity."

    Note the "..gained...". Must mean the analyst is dead on of course. Taking data in just the right slice is always the right way to do proper analysis.


    I really see the benefit of relying on facts to make one's point and anticipate the chasm between RIM-bashing and RIM-cold-and-sober analysis will continue.

    Interesting to sometimes trace the origin of each.

    A number of us notice Canadian-based analysts remain generally rosy and align with the previous record setting reporting RIM manages to keep accomplishing.

    More flamboyant US-based analysts (Apple fan-boi's?) seem to be generally negative - and offside as we say in hockey.



  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2010, at 12:05 PM, infektu wrote:

    Lazaridis as Nokia CEO? geez, this _is_ pathetic; you'll only cut him some slack when you stop assigning him jobs; (also, as it has been said here, RIM is his brainchild, so you're not doing your homework at all)

    and yes, big piece of news there, the shares being 2% on the day; what's next, you'll want the market to price in the fact that you and your aquaintances (want to) switch to some other phone brand?

    speaking of the "big picture", the fact that fart-apps are big in U.S. seems to cloud some analysts judgements; as it happends, I travel quite a bit and I see people using technology combos that would bewilder some "analysts"; yes, there are iphone users with linux laptops, ipod or macbook teenage users showing off their blackberry torch, gray-haired windows netbook owners using iphones, BB-s or N8... and this in happends London, Singapore, Berlin, Amsterdam, Hong Kong; personally I am curious to see what the brew is like in India.

    It might be that quite a few people "hate" RIM in U.S. and they irrationally want them "to die" because they associate it with working -- but in that case they should review their lives, not the technology :-)... when was the last time you wanted Wendy's to die just because Burger King tasted better?

    And one last word for math-challenged analysts:

    Back in the days when 100,000 smartphones were sold, Rim had 80% of the market or 80,000 phones. Next they sold "only" 40% of the 1,000,000 smartphones -- but this meant 400,000 phones. Next they will complain that RIM now sells only 32% of 50M, but a 10-year old knows that this means 16M units (and well on the way to exceed this).

    So short what you like, I made some money long on RIM and I plan to make some more.

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