Remember BlackBerry? In the first decade of this century, you either had a BlackBerry or you knew someone who did. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEOs of the parent company RIM, guided the BlackBerry to the top of the personal communications market. In developing the innovative device that was the first to reliably deliver e-mail over airwaves, they turned a tiny Canadian company into a global electronics giant. For many years, BlackBerry devices were in the lead because they provided small Qwerty keyboards that made it easy to send emails and instant messages.
Then on June 29, 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone.
The response by Lazaridis and Balsillie? They ignored it. As Apple gained ground and was hot on BlackBerry’s heels, BlackBerry stuck to the idea that analog plastic keys were preferable to sleek, elegant touchscreen devices, and that if they doggedly marketed their old-school technology the phones would continue to sell.
For a while, it worked. In June 2008, BlackBerry stock hit an all-time high of $114 per share.
Consumers had other ideas. As the iPhone took off, nobody wanted to be seen with a BlackBerry, and no doubt many rushed to change devices after being ridiculed by their friends. And BlackBerry miscalculated that the corporate world, rather than the consumer world, would drive smartphone adoption.
BlackBerry, which had been comfortably ahead of the pack, found itself one step behind, and then falling further from the front. As Steve Toback wrote for Moneywatch, “Balsillie and Lazaridis couldn’t have done a better job of driving the company off a cliff if they’d cut their own brake line and floored it.”
By December 2013, the stock price had sunk to an all-time low of $5.88 per share.
Obviously, this is not what you want a reporter from Moneywatch to write about you!
Making a Comeback by Self-Transformation
Retrenchment was necessary. In August 2013, the company announced it was up for sale. In September, a reported 4,500 full- and part-time positions – an estimated 40% of its operating staff – were terminated and its product line reduced from six to four models.
But the company wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. In November 2013, the BlackBerry board rejected buyout proposals, and new interim CEO John S. Chen said, “We are committed to reclaiming our success.”
The company returned to innovation – in fact, it has practically re-invented itself. BlackBerry abandoned producing phones and has emerged as a software and services business. It’s entered the growing autonomous vehicle space, partnering with Baidu, Nvidia, and Qualcomm to secure their software. Investors responded positively and the stock price held steady. With legacy smartphone business almost an insignificant portion of the overall product line, what’s left over is the software business, focused on enterprise software, security for mobile applications, and connected auto solutions security.
Though the situation looks more promising than it has for a long time, only time will tell whether BlackBerry will rise again.