RIM to face toughest critics: Its shareholders
FORTUNE — Research in Motion CEO Thorsten Heins will face a tough crowd Tuesday morning: investors. The beleaguered company’s annual shareholders’ meeting takes place in Waterloo, Ont. later today, providing a forum for frustrated investors to vent — and an opportunity for RIM (RIMM) to clarify its strategy.
The BlackBerry maker’s stock price has plummeted about 95% since its height in 2008. Last month RIM reported a first-quarter loss of $518 million, and announced that its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system will be delayed until early 2013. The news did not bode well for the future. It didn’t play with investors either.
“There’s a very substantial loss of credibility with the management team, both prior and current,” says Jaguar Financial Corp. CEO Vic Alboini, one of RIM’s most outspoken shareholders. Alboini says he recently contacted RIM’s management team with recommendations for three new board members, including Brian Bogosian, the former CEO of Good Technology. He is also pushing for Heins to be replaced, though he says he has decided not to solicit proxies from shareholders.
“To come out with a proxy campaign for a sizable company like this takes a tremendous amount of time and resources,” says Alboini. “You need to own at least 5% of the stock.” (Alboini would not disclose his firm’s holding in RIM).
A RIM spokesperson told Fortune that the company has reviewed Alboini’s suggestions for new board members, and that he is entitled to his opinions. “In the past six months, the company has appointed an independent chairperson in Barbara Stymiest, added a well-respected investor, Prem Watsa as a Director, and has nominated another independent board member with extensive international business experience, Timothy Dattels,” the spokesperson said in a written statement. “The board also continues to actively seek additional members to provide additional perspective and experience on the board.”
But despite some fresh faces on RIM’s board — and in its executive suite — RIM’s newish CEO, Heins, has been criticized for downplaying the company’s problems and sticking to its BlackBerry 10 strategy. In last month’s earnings report he said he would “work aggressively” to implement changes, including “a thoughtful realignment of resources and honing focus within the company on areas that have the greatest opportunities.” RIM also recently announced that it has engaged JPMorgan and RBC Capital to evaluate its options, but it hasn’t said much about which “option” it’s likely to decide on.
Alboini says he wants RIM’s management to clearly state that they are authorizing the banks to canvass a potential sale of the company, or looking into splitting up into two businesses. “What the board has not done is they’ve not clearly enunciated that they’re looking at these types of transactions,” says Alboini.
It’s not clear how many other shareholders share Alboini’s viewpoint, though he is not the only one expressing frustration. And a recent New York Times article suggests that the BlackBerry 10 delays couples with some of the company’s overly optimistic comments may even make it the target of shareholder lawsuits.
At this point, there’s not much RIM can do to appease investors like Alboini, except for a bold move that would see the company cut in half or sold off in its entirety. Clearer communication at Tuesday’s shareholders meeting could be a start.