By Boyd Erman
It appears Research In Motion Ltd.'s board is gearing up to do the right thing and split the roles of chairman and chief executive officer.
As any long-suffering RIM (RIMM) investor knows, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis share the titles of CEO and Chairman. There's been a push to create an independent chairman role from the investor community, and RIM has created a group on its board to consider the idea.
A report in the Financial Post says there are numerous possible outcomes to the RIM board review, but that director Barbara Stymiest taking over the role of chairman is the most likely at this point.
Given all the other problems at RIM (late operating system, delayed launches, plunging U.S. business) this would appear to be the last thing the company needs to spend time on. And indeed, there was a better time to do this, but that time is long past.
Now, the best course is to quickly switch to a new chairman (or chairwoman), to avoid any further distraction, and get back to focusing on those other issues.
It's not just corporate governance lip service. A new, more independent board could take a look at a few ideas that Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis may not be all that enamored with, but which deserve consideration.
For starters, there's the issue of marketing.
It feels a bit like RIM's marketing in North America has given up. The board might want to look at whether the executive in charge of marketing is the right one. That's hard at the moment because that executive is Mr. Balsillie.
Take the current ads. One of RIM's problems is the general belief that its products have fallen behind competitors like Apple and Samsung.
Apple ads have long showcased everything its products can do. RIM is falling back on a lame attempt to tell consumers that they will be cool if they use a BlackBerry.
The current ad running for the Blackberry Bold (with the tagline "be bold") gives no sense of what the machine can do other than look at maps and instant message, or why you would want to own it, unless you want to be invited to ride in a group of cyclists straight out of Tron.
It's not even close to the ads from Apple or Samsung.
A more independent board could also look at more radical ideas like the "split the berry" idea floated by RBC analyst Mike Abramsky last year. He posited that the company could unlock a lot of value by splitting its device business from its network business.
RIM went a little ways down this road by declaring it would open its network to other non-RIM devices, but a full spinout of the handset division would take the focus off the company's trouble getting products out the door and put it more on what the company does well, which is run a network.
At this point, it would be less about unlocking value than freeing the company from the persistent disappointments created by the inability to launch devices.
The company could hand out stock in the device business to shareholders, and those that want to continue to bet on RIM hitting a game-saving home run with its new line of phones could hold on. Those who lack faith could sell, but keep a stake in the cash-generating network business.