RIM to look at chairman and CEO split, shareholder withdraws motion

A Canadian activist investor is withdrawing a proposal to split the roles of board chairman and chief executive at Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) after the company agreed to study the issue.

A Canadian activist investor is withdrawing a proposal to split the roles of board chairman and chief executive at Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) after the company agreed to study the issue.

Northwest & Ethical Investments LP, or NEI, had put forth a motion to be considered at the company’s annual meeting in mid July asking shareholders to approve a policy that would have divided the role of chair and CEO.

RIM co-chief executives Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis currently also serve as co-chairmen of the company.

RIM agreed Thursday to establish a board committee of independent directors to study the matter and report on the issue by next January.

The committee will also examine the necessity for RIM’s co-CEOS to have significant board level titles and propose a governance structure for the BlackBerry maker.

“RIM and NEI Investments are pleased to have reached an agreement on this matter, and these important issues of corporate governance will receive further consideration at the RIM board level,” the two sides said in a statement.

Proxy advisory firms Glass Lewis and Co. and ISS had both recommended shareholders vote to support the NEI motion at the company’s annual meeting to be held in Waterloo, Ont. on July 12.

RIM has come under fire in recent months amid increasing competition from Apple’s iPhone and new smartphones using Google’s Android operating system.

The company’s new PlayBook tablet has also struggled against the iPad and other Android-powered tablets.

RIM was forced to defend itself Thursday after a scathing letter by an anonymous “high level employee” was published by the technology news website Boy Genius Report that said projects were falling behind schedule.

The letter also urged Balsillie and Lazaridis to make changes at the company, which has grown rapidly in recent years from corporate BlackBerry sales but now faces tougher competition as it tries to grow in the smartphone and tablet consumer market.

“We need an injection of confidence: share your strategy and ask us for support,” the letter said. “The headhunters have already started circling and we are at risk of losing our best people.”

In a post on the company’s blog, RIM questioned the authenticity of the letter’s author, but said “that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company’s challenges and its opportunities.”

RIM noted that it was nearing the end of a major business and technology transition.

“Although this transition has taken longer than anticipated, there is much excitement and optimism within the company about the new products that are lined up for the coming months,” the company wrote.

NEI Investments was created through a joint venture between Desjardins financial group and Canada’s credit unions, merging Northwest Mutual Funds Inc. and The Ethical Funds Company.

NEI has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and is owned 50 per cent by the Provincial Credit Union Centrals and 50 per cent by Desjardins Group, one of Quebec’s biggest financial companies.

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