RIM Executive Writes Open Letter Pleading for Change–RIM Responds, Sort Of

Today is not a good day for RIM on the web. Earlier today, a senior RIM executive sent in a letter to BGR pleading for change and essentially outlining what the company has to do to stay competitive. It was a blunt, detailed and critical analysis of what RIM’s top management has resisted and failed to do to bring the company in line with the likes of Apple and Google.

Here’s a snippet:

To the RIM Senior Management Team:

I have lost confidence.

While I hide it at work, my passion has been sapped. I know I am not alone — the sentiment is widespread and it includes people within your own teams.

Mike and Jim, please take the time to really absorb and digest the content of this letter because it reflects the feeling across a huge percentage of your employee base. You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.

Before I get into the meat of the matter, I will say I am not part of a large group of bitter employees wishing to embarrass us. Rather, I believe these points need to be heard and I desperately want RIM to regain its position as a successful industry leader. Our carriers, distributors, alliance partners, enterprise customers, and our loyal end users all want the same thing… for BlackBerry to once again be leading the pack.

We are in the middle of major “transition” and things have never been more chaotic. Almost every project is falling further and further behind schedule at a time when we absolutely must deliver great, solid products on time. We urge you to make bold decisions about our organisational structure, about our culture and most importantly our products.

The rest of the letter outlines eight major points, with the first point mentioning Apple and how they have mastered the user experience, something RIM has failed to achieve time and time again (the Blackberry Storm, Torch, and Playbook comes to mind):

Let’s obsess about what is best for the end user. We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice — the end user doesn’t care. We simply have to admit that Apple is nailing this and it is one of the reasons they have people lining up overnight at stores around the world, and products sold out for months. These people aren’t hypnotized zombies, they simply love beautifully designed products that are user centric and work how they are supposed to work

News of this letter has spread like wildfire on the web. RIM noticed, and immediately responded to the allegations via their official blog:

An “Open Letter” to RIM’s senior management was published anonymously on the web today and it was attributed to an unnamed person described as a “high level employee”. It is obviously difficult to address anonymous commentary and it is particularly difficult to believe that a “high level employee” in good standing with the company would choose to anonymously publish a letter on the web rather than engage their fellow executives in a constructive manner, but regardless of whether the letter is real, fake, exaggerated or written with ulterior motivations, it is fair to say that the senior management team at RIM is nonetheless fully aware of and aggressively addressing both the company’s challenges and its opportunities.

RIM recently confirmed that it is nearing the end of a major business and technology transition. Although this transition has taken longer than anticipated, there is much excitement and optimism within the company about the new products that are lined up for the coming months. There is a fundamental business reality however that following an extended period of hyper growth (during which RIM nearly quadrupled in size over the past 5 years alone), it has become necessary for the company to streamline its operations in order to allow it to grow its business profitably while pursuing newer strategic opportunities. Again, RIM’s management team takes these challenges seriously and is actively addressing the situation. The company is thankfully in a solid business and financial position to tackle the opportunities ahead with a solid balance sheet (nearly $3 billion in cash and no debt), strong profitability (RIM’s net income last quarter was $695 million) and substantial international growth (international revenue in Q1 grew 67% over the same quarter last year). In fact, while growth has slowed in the US, RIM still shipped 13.2 million BlackBerry smartphones last quarter (which is about 100 smartphones per minute, 24 hours per day) and RIM is more committed than ever to serving its loyal customers and partners around the world.

Was this really a response? I think RIM would be better off ignoring anonymous letters, as shooting back just implies the ‘anonymous letter’ hit a sour note. If you take a look at the comments on the Inside Blackberry blog post, it’s not pretty.

This wasn’t the first time RIM has responded to complaints openly. Other times include an App World developer going off, and a response to Apple’s press conference on ‘antennagate’. They’ve also been under fire from a major investor, too. Seriously, the company needs some help in the PR department–and it shouldn’t come from their co-CEOs.

RIM has to step up and create some real innovative products for consumers, because concentrating on the corporate side just isn’t cutting it anymore. I wish RIM the best, and really hope they don’t become the ‘next’ Nortel or fly away like the Avro Arrow.