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January 23, 2012

RIM gets rid of its Noah's Ark problem

noahs-ark.jpg Finally, RIM's two co-CEOs are stepping down. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have been running the company for years, and while at the helm they've enjoyed many, many successes. But the two have also failed to position the company to respond to the dual threats of Apple and Android, in the smartphone and tablet wars.

RIM, who practically gave birth to the modern smartphone with the BlackBerry, has had its lunch eaten by its competitors over the last four years. Actually, make that two lunches: Lazaridis's and Balsillie's.

The company has caught a fair amount of flack for having two CEOs. I've always thought it was so odd that, in a hyper-competitive field, this one big company chose to muddle the chain of command by having two top dogs in these key positions. But wait, turns out they also had two chief operating officers, too! Noah, have you gotten all your animals aboard the Ark yet? How many RIM executives does it take to do one job?

For comparison's sake, here's Apple's executive leadership team. Notice Tim Cook is the CEO and his (apparently) direct reports are all senior vice presidents, with one also being the lone "chief" -- the chief financial officer.

At Google, the search giant recently clarified its upper echelon by making Eric Schmidt executive chairman, Larry Page as CEO, and Sergey Brin as "co-founder." Where Schmidt was once supposedly the adult in the room, while listening to Page and Brin, Page is now in charge.

Here is a previous executive team (an old web page I found via the Wayback Machine.) At one point, RIM had two CEOs, two chief operating officers, and a chief *operations* officer.

And here is RIM's new executive team web page. A bit leaner. They went from eight top execs, to five.

Having these "co-" positions at the highest levels could indicate some problems in management performance and board leadership. Sometimes, people get promoted to a "co" position as a reward for them staying with the company -- and the company doesn't have the fortitude to push someone else out. It's called executive bloat.

Sometimes, it signals the need for what is perceived as a lot of "strategic" thinking and direction, and the thought is that two people are better than one. But the lines of responsibility and accountability get muddled. And there's a danger that the co-executives sometimes end up listening more to each other than the little people down below -- their people on the front lines.

I'm not saying that happened at RIM.

I'm just saying these are the dangers of diffusing leadership responsibility. In RIM's case, they've had four people doing two key roles, and the company has been dogging it the last few years. Let's hope the new guy at RIM -- Thorstein Heins -- takes the reins of leadership firmly.

Image via The Sun/UK.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*

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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:

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