What Are the Greatest Risks Facing Research In Motion Today?

It goes without saying that Canadian smart device maker Research In Motion has seen more dark patches and recent bright spots over the last 18 months than many companies see in a lifetime. Left for dead by most tech investors, the company's stock price fell almost 90% from its all-time high in 2008, as a series of humiliating management blunders, and the entry of several massive competitors eclipsed the once-king of the smartphone market. However, after purging its upper ranks, and installing newly-minted CEO and President Throsten Heins on January 22, 2012, the company has undergone a transformation that has the potential to serve as a full-fledge resurgence for RIMM, albeit an unlikely one at that.

Regardless, the company's share price has been on an absolute tear lately, doubling over the last six months, and instilling a new-found hope in many that had given this company up for dead. With the impending launch of its next-gen BlackBerry 10 mobile OS due January 30, the future seems as divisive as ever for Research in Motion. It was in that spirit that the Fool recently compiled a premium research report on RIMM to highlight its long-term outlook. Included in the text below is a brief excerpt of this report that we've included for you, our reader, for free. Enjoy!

Risks
The biggest and most likely risk that's facing RIM is simply that BlackBerry 10 fails. If the company successfully meets its announced global launch date of January 30, it will then face the ultimate test: the market. At the end of the day, the smartphone market will determine RIM's fate, as consumers vote with their wallets. The company has spent multiple years building and investing in the platform, so consumers may have high expectations of what it can deliver. If RIM falls short, and BB10 fails, either because it fails to impress or its ecosystem is lacking, then the company is doomed.

Just like any other company in transition, turnarounds take time. Even if BB10 begins to gain traction, but more slowly than is optimal, the turnaround may take too long, straining RIM's cash position, and it could risk running out of money. For example, if cash is low and it wanted to keep going, it would be forced to raise either debt or equity capital, neither of which is good for current shareholders.

The smartphone sector remains one of the most competitive landscapes on Earth, and Android and iOS have cemented themselves as the number one and number two platforms, respectively. Windows Phone and RIM are primarily vying for third place, but the ground is shrinking beneath their feet, as Android and iOS continue to leave less and less for everyone else. Their combined market share grew to 86% in the third quarter.

Leadership
In January of this year, Research In Motion saw a major executive shake up -- one that was badly needed. Longtime co-CEOs and co-Chairmen Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie chose to step down, after years of criticism that the dual-management structure was a corporate governance travesty, and that they had strategically bungled RIM's dominant position in the smartphone market.

They appointed then-COO Thorsten Heins as the new CEO. This move has been met with mixed reactions. On one hand, Heins was being groomed as a successor, and many don't think he has what it takes to successfully engineer a turnaround of this magnitude, because his strategic visions were similar to his predecessors'. However, he has significant industry experience, spending over two decades at Siemens, and RIM was in dire need of some new blood.

Supporting Heins are Brian Bidulka, CFO, and Frank Boulben, who was named CMO in June. Kristian Tear recently became COO in August, just a month after Steven Zipperstein became chief legal officer. RIM has had something of an executive exodus recently, which is why much of its current management team is relatively new to the job.

One notable board member is Prem Watsa, who's known as the "Warren Buffett of Canada." Watsa joined the board in January at the same time Heins became CEO. The value investor has significantly increased his stake in RIM, a big vote of confidence in the turnaround. 

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  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 6:53 AM, reymysterio619 wrote:

    Another useless article.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 7:46 AM, greenember wrote:

    The idea that RIM could blow through $3 Billion in cash before knowing whether BB10 is going to work or not is just idiotic. It won't take long at all to see if this is going to play out in RIM's favor. Shareholders are protected by the fact that if it fails, it will be caught by a buyout on the way down. With RIM's worldwide infrastructure now approved as a SEM by VISA, they are a VERY attractive acquisition target in the up and coming mobile payment arena. And don't forget about those patents....

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