TORONTO – Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) has taken many hits in recent months, but the composition of the BlackBerry maker’s board of directors is a growing concern for some shareholders who are pushing for major changes sooner rather than later.
Vague assurances by chairwoman Barbara Stymiest of changes to come at the company’s annual meeting this week left some, including activist shareholder Vic Alboini of Jaguar Financial, unsatisfied and calling for a makeover of the board now.
Alboini, who declared his hard stance at the shareholder gathering, showed no signs of letting up Wednesday saying chief executive Thorsten Heins was not suited for the job.
“I think he should be gone from the company. He was there for the last five years and he was part of the problem,” Alboini said in an interview Wednesday.
Alboini has called for RIM to bring on more diverse board members, including one from Silicon Valley and two from New York, adding that the company could also benefit from additional non-Canadian members.
“You might also need somebody in Southeast Asia,” he said, of a market that RIM has proclaimed of particular interest as it looks to push sales of its older BlackBerry smartphones in the short term.
“If there’s some person that has worked for Apple, or Samsung and has super marketing experience, why not bring them on the board?”
Heins previously served as RIM’s chief operating officer and took the reins of the company in January from co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, and quickly assured investors that RIM would stay the course with no layoffs in sight.
Now the company is in the midst of a massive layoff of about 5,000 employees in an effort to help save about $1 billion by the end of fiscal 2013.
“I think there’s a real substantial loss of credibility between Heins and the shareholders,” Alboini said.
“You’ve got to be genuine as a leader, you’ve got to be authentic. There’s nothing wrong with giving somebody a chance to fix (the company), but you’ve got to be honest about what happened in the past.”
Technology analyst Carmi Levy agreed RIM’s board of directors needs to diversify.
“What better way to accomplish that then by ensuring that the people you put in key positions — including the board — are in fact representative of those markets from a visual, cultural and language experience standpoint,” he said.
“This is not a rubber stamp board, this needs to be an active, engaged board.”
Massive changes have engulfed much of the operations at the struggling Waterloo, Ont.-based company in recent months as it has raced to bring its much-delayed BlackBerry 10 operating system and smartphones to market.
BlackBerry 10 — which many see as a make-or-break innovation for the company — is expected to face fierce competition from Apple’s iPhone and smartphones using the Android operating system and possibly other rivals.
On Wednesday, Ray Gillenwater the head of RIM’s Australian and New Zealand division exited the company “to pursue other opportunities” after stepping into the role earlier this year.
“We appreciate his contributions to RIM through the various positions he held in North America and Asia over the past five years and we wish him well,” a statement from the company said.
Gillenwater will be replaced by Matthew Ball, who joined RIM about a year ago as head of its local marketing operations.
Earlier this year, RIM had to admit that it was behind an anti-Apple flashmob orchestrated by its Australian marketing department.
Dozens of people in black clothing showed up in a coach bus and waved signs at shoppers inside a Sydney Apple store that told them to “Wake Up.”
The campaign was widely panned, partly because of RIM’s own troubled launch of its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and the delay of the new BlackBerry smartphones.
The shuffle atop RIM’s Australia and New Zealand operations is the second in six months. In April, Gillenwater took the lead role from Adele Beachley who resigned earlier.