In an interview withÃ‚Â Forbes, John Chen states what it takes to turn a company around, why he decided to do it and what makes a great turnaround team.
Here’s what he had to say:
Why attempt this?
I thought the world would be better off with a strong BlackBerry. You know, the company has 44,000 patents. And I thought it might be a fixable thing. It will be a difficult challenge, but if it were going to be easy, why do it?
Android and Apple own the mobile market. Even mightyÃ‚Â MicrosoftÃ‚Â MSFTÃ‚Â +1.07%Ã‚Â struggles. Can a small player survive?
Sure. Take the automotive industry; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not all about volume. What do you call Porsche? What do you call Lamborghini? Porsche is doing extremely well. Now, Porsche serves a particular segment of the market, doing well for its shareholders and owners. It always serves the market for a purpose, which is the whole point.
In the short term there are enough users of serious computingÃ¢â‚¬â€œmeaning this is what they do for their living, this is how they operateÃ¢â‚¬â€œthat want a keyboard. You have CEOs of major companies who whip out their BlackBerrys because of the keyboard. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care about apps. And, by the way, from a security point of view IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m starting to worry about where these apps are actually coming from.
How many potential customers fit that profileÃ¢â‚¬â€œwanting a keyboard but not wanting apps?
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a huge market segment out there for any regulated industry. Governments, financial services, health care. I think we can go capture those and become a winner. I have two companies in Europe now that have reversed their policies on letting people bring their own devices to work. It presents too much of a security risk. After Angela Merkel was hacked she moved straight to a BlackBerry.
Assuming BlackBerry survives the short term, what are your long-term plans?
The devices will change, but the need for security, productivity and communication will continue to grow. These are the three building blocks of all things Internet and all things Ã¢â‚¬Å“connected.Ã¢â‚¬Â Security is more than an exercise in avoiding snooping or being listened to or copied. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also about data security. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford to have somebody steal or change your data.
How big is the market for users who put productivity and security ahead of communication?
Regulated industriesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ share of IT spending is 30%. I assume the same percentage for telecom spendingÃ¢â‚¬â€œ30%.
Why are tech turnarounds so hard?
Because the amount of time you have to execute your plan can be dramatically changed by your competitors. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no time to recover from mistakes. You have to be right most of the time.
Do you need a strategy, or are fast reflexes enough?
You must have short-, medium- and long-term strategies. And a lot of time you have to put the medium-term strategy in play. I had to do that at Sybase many times. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d go down these paths, and some would work and some wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. But we had laid out a long-term plan, a medium-term plan and a short-term plan. However, if the short-term plan wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t working, the medium-term plan would kick in. A lot of companies have only one plan. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great if things go perfectly, not so great if things blow up.
What makes a great turnaround team?
Urgency. And an obsessive focus on the things that matter. You build a team by picking the right peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€œit all comes down to the right peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€œwho understand this. Then you make those people accountable. The CEO and the team need to know the details. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know the minute details about everything, but you need to know the details. In an emergency room the doctor is hands on, whereas in a teaching hospital the doctor could just, you know, act like a professor and talk someone else through the procedure. Turnarounds are different; theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re like an emergency room, and you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be afraid of blood.
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