The maker of BlackBerry smartphones has about six months to prove to investors that their unique leadership structure is not only viable but vital to the future of Research In Motion. Investment firm Northwest & Ethical pushed for RIM’s co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis to get off the board of directors so it could govern in the company’s best interest independently. NEI had withdrawn their shareholder vote on the proposal, as RIM has agreed to get a neutral third party to assess the situation, and issue a conclusion by January 31. That timing would allow NEI to make a motion for the separation of roles (if needed) for the next annual meeting. More irate shareholders point to a previous ruling that had kicked Balsillie off the board, and that its eventual reversal putting him back on was uncalled for. Even if Northwest & Ethical Investments is satisfied with the investigation, other investors may very well launch the vote themselves.
At the core of the complaint is that Balsillie and Lazaridis are following a narrow strategy, and that there’s little room for dissenting opinions with them occupying both chairman and CEO spots. Consumers and investors alike are looking for a fresh direction, and if history is any indication, Mike and Jim have failed to identify and act on upcoming trends. You can hardly blame a lack of confidence, but there’s some hope nestled in upcoming batch of OS 7 devices. NFC is still nascent, and it seems like RIM will be ready to ride that wave, but how long have augmented reality applications been available? And BlackBerry’s just getting into it now? I suppose it will take at least six months before QNX-powered dual-core smartphones can show us just how much RIM has wised up, but in the meantime OS 7 (as refined as it may be) is an old, bitter pill to swallow.