John Chen: I’ll get BlackBerry to the point where it’s cool again

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BlackBerry is going through a turnaround phase but it may not be a survivor. Even BlackBerry CEO John Chen compares BlackBerry to a patient in critical condition.

“The first thing you do is stabilization,” he said, which means in business getting the financials in order. Then, “you examine what is driving you to disconnect with customers. If you weren’t disconnecting from customers, then you wouldn’t need me.”

The job of the turnaround CEO involves a careful balance between cutting costs, working to keep current customers and then finding something to sell that they want but don’t even know they need yet, he said.

“Sometimes you don’t know when you should quit trying something,” he said. “You don’t want to quit too early and you don’t want to be too stupid so you are hitting your head against the wall and it doesn’t yield.”

In the past months, Chen has rebuilt BlackBerry’s executive team mainly from people he worked with at Sybase.

How does he convince people to come work for him given the situation?

“I tell them, ‘Everything is broken,’ ” he said. “BlackBerry is iconic. A lot of people have an opinion about it. A lot of people think it’s dying, dead or should be. This is our chance to show they are wrong.”

“In a turnaround, it is so hard to get good talent,” he said. “If you have a reputation of disassembling a team and firing, no one will put their hearts into it.”

Ken Dulaney, an industry analyst at Gartner states,

“He’s a brave man to do it,”, there may be benefits in splitting up the company. “No one should criticize him if it doesn’t work out.”

“I don’t envy the guy,” said Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. “Smartphones are more than a consumer product now. The challenge is going to be to find something distinctive that competitors don’t have or won’t be able to copy within a year.”

For now, BlackBerry is focused on its core customers in government and industries like finance, banking and health care who value security and long battery life.

“My teenage daughter doesn’t really care about those things but the National Security Agency cares, the Department of Defense cares,” he said.

If he succeeds, consumers may one day look at BlackBerry as cool again, he said.

“I’ll get BlackBerry to the point that my teenage daughter wants to do business with us.”

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