TORONTO — The new chief executive of Research in Motion said Monday that drastic change is not needed, even as the once-iconic maker of the BlackBerry smartphone confronts the most difficult period in its history.
The Canadian company turned the smartphone into a ubiquitous device that many couldn't live without. But after Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEOs and co-chairmen, Thorsten Heins assumes the chief executive role at a time when Americans are abandoning their BlackBerrys for flashier touch-screen phones such as Apple's iPhone and various competing models that run on Google's Android software.
RIM's U.S. market share of smartphones dropped from 44 percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2011, according to market researcher NPD Group.
The company still has 75 million active subscribers, but many analysts believe the company will lose its market share internationally, just as it has in the U.S.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said in late 2010 that RIM would have a hard time catching up to Apple because RIM has been forced to move beyond its area of strength and into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company.
BlackBerrys made email mobile and dominated the North American smartphone market until the iPhone came along. Under Lazaridis and Balsillie, the company struggled to adjust to the times and match the iPhone's facility with Web browsing, third-party applications and multimedia capability.
Heins, formerly a little-known chief operating officer who joined RIM four years ago from Siemens, replaces RIM's founders after the company has lost tens of billions in market value.
Heins said Monday that he didn't think significant change was needed. He said the leadership change was not a "seismic" event.
Heins also said he's committed to switching the company's phones over to a new operating system, which is expected late this year.
He said RIM has to improve its U.S. marketing to go beyond the traditional corporate customer.
"I want us to have a bit more of an ear toward the consumer market, understand trends, and not just do what the Street is telling you," he said.
RIM doesn't have plans "right now" to put the company up for the sale or to split it up, he said. He also reiterated there is no reason for a "shakeup" of RIM. He explained that he would consult with Lazaridis and Balsillie on major decisions because they remain board members.
"I've worked really well with Mike (Lazaridis) in the past," Heins said. "He is a founder of an iconic company, a great innovator. For sure, I will seek his advice and his counsel where needed and I will have my discussions with him, but the company is run by the CEO and that's what you'll see."
Heins' top priority will be to release smartphones that run the company's long-awaited BlackBerry 10 software.
"I will do everything I can to make that happen, but I cannot commit to a very specific date," he said.
Vic Alboini, president of Jaguar Financial Corp. in Toronto, which has been pushing for a change in leadership, said the market sees the leadership change as "more of the same."
Balsillie and Lazaridis have long been celebrated as Canadian heroes, even appearing in the country's citizenship guide for new immigrants as models of success. They headed RIM together for the past two decades.