RIM takes its case to BlackBerry investors

Shareholders of Research In Motion, perhaps some of the most staunch supporters of the BlackBerry smartphone, are expected to take a far more critical view of the embattled company at its annual meeting on Tuesday.

WATERLOO, Ont. — Shareholders of Research In Motion, perhaps some of the most staunch supporters of the BlackBerry smartphone, are expected to take a far more critical view of the embattled company at its annual meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting in RIM’s hometown of Waterloo, Ont., will be the first time many of them will meet new chief executive Thorsten Heins and the numerous other executives who have come aboard.

It will also be a prime chance for them to grill Heins about the state of the company awash in technical delays, financial underperformance and an eroding stock price.

“This is the one time when shareholders can actually get their voice heard,” said Sameet Kanade, a technology analyst at Northern Securities.

“I’d be surprised if there weren’t any backlash.”

Much has changed since former co-CEO Jim Balsillie stood before RIM’s stakeholders last July and assured them that RIM’s deteriorating stock price — which had just fallen below $30 a share — was merely in a temporary dip. It has since fallen to well below $10 per share.

Last year, Balsillie offered up a series of assurances and timelines that have fallen by the wayside. He told the audience that RIM’s foundation was strong and it was on the verge of its biggest product launch in the company’s history — one that would help it meet its financial guidance for the year.

As history has it, RIM (TSX:RIM) didn’t launch those products, and still hasn’t. The BlackBerry 10 operating system and its new line of smartphones have proven to be the biggest hurdle the company has ever faced, with delays pushing the release date until early next year.

The company’s share of the U.S. smartphone market has also eroded to around 10 per cent.

Earlier this year, Balsillie left the company, while co-CEO Mike Lazaridis has also stepped aside and taken a lesser position on the company’s board.

RIM’s new leadership has been hurriedly trying to rescue the company’s reputation in hopes that consumers will consider buying another BlackBerry instead of the array of alternatives on the market, such as Apple’s iPhone and a flurry of devices operating on the Android system.

Chief marketing officer Frank Boulben, who took over the job just four weeks ago, said BlackBerry 10 will be “a truly different experience.”

“What we are going to introduce is a different paradigm where you are always ’in’ and you flow seamlessly from one application to another,” he said Monday in an interview.

Boulben comes from the marketing department of telecom company LightSquared, which filed for Chapter 11 last month.

He said the BB10 launch will be wider than the initial plan, with a scheduled release in the early part of next year in “more countries than we anticipated in a shorter period of time.”

While he declined to detail the specifics of the delayed BlackBerry 10 rollout, he assured the global campaign would echo the same messages, unlike in the past.

“I want us to have a much more unified and consistent marketing approach,” he said.

“We have great talent in the company, but we haven’t got the right operating model. There is a lot of decentralization, fragmentation and duplication in our marketing efforts.”

RIM is also in the midst of an international tour intended to convince application developers to make their software available on the new BB10 system, while CEO Heins has made a few media appearances to answer questions from customers.

The annual meeting will be a rare opportunity to connect directly with investors, said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst based in London, Ont.

“From that perspective it is an important event, especially given the turmoil that the company has incurred over the past year,” he said.

However, the meeting is unlikely to result in major changes for RIM, especially since any efforts from shareholders to push for a takeover or other significant changes must be submitted ahead of time.

What shareholders should expect, however, is some sort of road map for the next six to eight months as RIM tries to survive through the key smartphone selling period that runs from back-to-school season to the start of holiday shopping.

“What people are going to be looking for, at least from the investors, is a short-term and a long-term strategic plan that is credible and that they can achieve,” said Zeus Kerravala, a telecom equipment analyst at ZK Research in Boston.

“What I’d be asking for is, give me some indicators to look for in the next few quarters that they’re moving in the right direction.”

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