BlackBerry Going All In With Chen

It was no surprise when BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) ousted former CEO Thorsten Heins in early November after its failed sale to Fairfax Financial. Heins' attempts to make BlackBerry all things to all people never took hold, and the unraveling of the Fairfax bailout was the final straw. Enter new BlackBerry CEO John Chen, the architect of a turnaround at enterprise provider Sybase that was nothing short of miraculous -- and BlackBerry could certainly use a miracle or two.

Though not necessarily shocking, it was a bit of an eye-opener when the interim CEO shook up BlackBerry's management ranks even further a couple of weeks ago, showing its chief financial, chief operating, and chief marketing officers the door. As it turns out, Chen wasn't quite finished emptying the executive suites at BlackBerry.

The latest
There were rumors over the weekend that Chen was planning a couple of more senior departures, and now those have been confirmed. BlackBerry's mergers and acquisitions head, Chris Wormland, should be gone by the end of this month. Wormland's departure will be followed by the exit of global sales boss Rick Costanzo early next year. 

A slight pop in BlackBerry's share price today would seem to indicate investors aren't overly concerned with the executive-team changes. As BlackBerry's stock price continued its slide this year -- it's down 48% year to date -- clearly changes needed to be made, and Chen's not shy about making them.

Unlike Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , BlackBerry wasn't able to appease a disgruntled market via a sale. When Nokia agreed on the $7.2 billion deal to sell its devices and services unit to its mobile OS partner Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) , shareholders of each won. Microsoft could fast-forward its transition to mobile devices, and Nokia was able to shed the albatross that weighed on earnings.

The day before the announcement on Sept. 3, Nokia was trading at $3.90 a share. The day after the news, Nokia's stock was at $5.12 a share; it sits at $7.50 today. Microsoft's share price is also up, making everybody a winner -- except BlackBerry. The Nokia deal made Microsoft an even bigger competitive threat to BlackBerry than it already was.

A look ahead
BlackBerry shareholders' chance for a quick, happy ending disappeared with Fairfax's failed acquisition. So it's up to Chen and what remains of his team to right the ship, and that means a laser focus on the enterprise market -- something Chen certainly knows a thing or two about. As he put it in his recent open letter to BlackBerry fans, "We're serious about multi-platform MDM [mobile device management] and even more serious about multi-platform EMM [enterprise mobility management]."

It's too early for Chen to have made an impact on BlackBerry's upcoming fiscal third-quarter earnings report, scheduled for this Friday. However, with estimates expected in the range of negative-$0.44 a share, twice last year's disappointing results, this could be a tough earnings call to stomach. That said, the changes Chen is making in his team and in BlackBerry's strategic focus, coupled with even the slightest earnings surprise, could prop up its stock price, at least in the near term.

Another intriguing notion for shareholders is the huge short position in BlackBerry stock. Currently, nearly one-third of BlackBerry's float (the stock available for trading) has been sold short. Can you imagine the impact on all those short-sellers if BlackBerry could somehow announce a slight earnings surprise and see an associated jump in stock price? If traders are forced to cover short positions of that size, BlackBerry's stock share price could get a nice shot in the arm.

Final Foolish thoughts
If nothing else, these most recent executive changes attest to Chen's unwillingness to sit idle and let BlackBerry fall by the wayside. And with his track record, there's reason for at least some optimism in BlackBerry's prospects over the mid to long term..

But the focus of any Fool's decision to take a chance on BlackBerry should be based on Chen's ability to implement his plan. Yes, an earnings surprise coupled with its huge short position could give BlackBerry stock a near-term jump-start, but don't expect that to last (if it even comes to pass). Ultimately, BlackBerry's future lies in Chen's hands. Which is just as well, considering there won't be many BlackBerry executives left at the rate they're leaving.

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  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2013, at 3:01 PM, melegross wrote:

    Its a 50/50 thing. We could see an earnings surprise—on the down side. Then the stock will tumble.

    It's hard to see what Chen can do. Hardware is not the same as software. It's much more difficult. The clock may have already run out on Blackberry. If so, there's nothing that Chen, or anyone else, can do.

    If sales have taken another downturn, there may be no wiggle room. It will be interesting to see what the cash and investment position will be, and whether it's been affected yet by the $400 million needed for the layoffs, or whether we'll see that next quarter.

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