by Al Sacco

With Ouster of BlackBerry CEOs as Chairmen, Real Change Unlikely

Jan 03, 20123 mins
Data CenterIT LeadershipIT Strategy

RIM may soon boot its co-CEOs from their dual-chairman roles. But's Al Sacco asks: Is this really the change that BlackBerry needs, or just another empty gesture to appease shaky shareholders?

A group of Research In Motion (RIM) shareholders has been calling for a significant leadership shakeup for months, and according to a new report, that shakeup could soon come in the form of an ouster of RIM’s co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie from their board of directors chairmen positions—but not their chief executive roles. 


According to, Barbara Stymiest, a current RIM board member and independent director, is first in line to succeed Lazaridis and Balsillie as RIM chairman, or chairwoman. (Stymiest placed 15th in FORTUNE’s 2008 “50 Most Powerful Women in Business”.)

Back in July, in response to shareholder pressure, RIM vowed to form a committee, of which Stymiest is a part, to consider exactly what kind of authority an independent chairman would hold at the company; to examine whether or not both Lazaridis and Balsillie need to maintain high-level board of directors positions to adequately do their jobs; and to eventually provide a recommended future corporate governance structure that could include an independent chairman role.

That recommendation is expected to be delivered to RIM’s full board of directors on January 31, and claims to have sources that say Stymiest will very likely end up filling that independent chair role.

I recently cited RIM’s hesitance to restructure its leadership as a significant reason why the company will face another trying year in 2012—and why RIM might want to consider a sale of the company and/or the BlackBerry brand sooner than later. So such a restructuring of its board of directors could be a step in the right direction.

However, it’s improbable that Stymiest’s appointment as RIM chairman/chairwomen would result in the leadership changes that BlackBerry shareholders — including Northwest & Ethical Investments (NEI Investments) — are likely hoping for, and that I believe are necessary for a successful corporate turnaround. Here’s why.


Even if Stymiest is named board chair, Chief Executives Lazaridis and Balsillie — both of whom have continually downplayed RIM’s recent troubles even as the company’s overall market value dropped by 75 percent in the past year alone — will continue to serve as co-CEOs for the foreseeable future.

From the report:

“RIM’s seven independent directors had been staunchly supportive of Messrs. Lazaridis and Balsillie and continue to be despite successive quarterly earnings declines, RIM’s evaporating share of the smartphone market, product delays and a precipitous drop in the company’s share price.”

In other words, RIM’s potential new chairwoman has been supporting Lazaridis and Balsillie for years. And it’s unlikely that significant change will come, from a leadership perspective, if an existing member of RIM’s current “regime” takes over the board reigns.

So while Stymiest’s potential appointment as RIM’s board chair may seem like a notable leadership shakeup, it’s more likely an effort to appease RIM’s anxious shareholders calling for some form of change. But the result will be more of the same.