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BlackBerry: Can new boss make good on promises?

BlackBerry: Can new boss make good on promises?

The BlackBerry saga continues. Having put itself up for sale, agreeing a deal in principle with key shareholder Fairfax Financial, the ailing Canadian mobile- maker yesterday sensationally sacked its CEO and took itself off of the market.

With a $1 billion investment from Fairfax and a new interim CEO in place, the company is already making noises about getting back in the game after a miserable 2013.

The new boss, John Chen, has a reputation for saving tech companies in distress.

In 1998 he took over at Sybase, a database software firm that had been battered by IBM and Oracle.

Seven years later, the company was sold for $5.8 billion, Chen lauded for his role in turning the firm around.

So it’s no surprise to hear him sounding bullish about BlackBerry’s prospects.

john chen blackberry

He told Reuters: “I know we have enough ingredients to build a long-term sustainable business. I have done this before and seen the same movie before."

In the same interview, he said that he would meet with key government and corporate clients and shake up the boardroom, while promising that BlackBerry would continue to release new smartphonesfor consumers.

Sound familiar? Here’s outgoing CEO Thorsten Heins, speaking when he was appointed back in January 2012.

“RIM earned its reputation by focusing relentlessly on the customer and delivering unique mobile communications solutions. We intend to build on this heritage to expand BlackBerry’s leadership position.

“Going forward, we will continue to focus both on short-term and long-term growth, strategic planning, a customer- and market-based product approach, and flawless execution.”

RIM CEO Thorsten Hein BlackBerry 10 keynote

Chen certainly has chops.

There’s no doubting his business acumen and his approach at Sybase is arguably what’s needed at BlackBerry.

That’s to stop trying to compete on a large scale and focus on niche needs of specific punters.

But seeing as BlackBerry’s share of the smartphone market is now a piffling 1% according to IDC, he’s going to have make a lot of changes very quickly.

Chen believes he can turn the company around in six quarters, which gives him until April 2015.

Blackberry 10 Family

That’s bold, especially as Google is likely to tighten its grip and enterprise solutions from the likes of Apple look increasingly tempting for big business.

In a way, it’s good for the smartphone business that BlackBerry goes on.

It can provide competition on a certain level and its innovation can push the whole sector on.

Let’s not forget BB10 is a good platform that just lacked a decent install base.

That’s down to Google and Apple’s domination. Chen can specialise, but he’ll need to at least try and find a way to bring back customers from iOS and Android.

That won’t be easy seeing as both ecosystems draw customers in and are hard to leave behind.

Whatever happens, 2014 will be fascinating for BlackBerry. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the jig is up for Canada’s finest.

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