BlackBerry co-founder Lazaridis to retire May 1

Mike Lazaridis, who was left his position as co-CEO last year, is stepping down from the BlackBerry board as well. His new $100 million investment fund beckons.

Mike Lazaridis, shown here with the BlackBerry Playbook, will be stepping down from his role on the company's board. James Martin/CNET
BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis, who left the co-CEO role just over a year ago, will retire from his current position on the board effective May 1.

After hastily giving up the co-CEO position amid shareholder pressure, Lazaridis has served as vice chair and a director of BlackBerry. Last week, he launched a $100 million fund, Quantum Valley Investments, to work on commercial applications for breakthroughs in quantum science.

"With the launch of BlackBerry 10, I believe I have fulfilled my commitment to the board," Lazaridis said today in a press release. "Thorsten and his team did an excellent job in completing BlackBerry 10. We have a great deal of which to be proud. I believe I am leaving the company in good hands. I remain a huge fan of BlackBerry and, of course, wish the company and its people well."

Lazaridis and fellow former co-CEO Jim Balsillie stepped down in January 2012 amid increasing shareholder criticism over the way the company was being run and amid a stunning drop in its share price.

During Lazaridis' final year as co-CEO and co-chairman, BlackBerry (then named Research In Motion) suffered a sharp slowdown in growth as its phones failed to make a dent in the smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung. And BlackBerry's attempt to breach the tablet market with the PlayBook stumbled early. If that wasn't enough, BlackBerry also delayed the release of new products and suffered a major global service outage, the worst in the company's history, in October 2011.

Current CEO Thorsten Heins was quickly ushered in to replace the co-CEOs, while Lazaridis moved to the vice chairman role. Basillie remained a board director for a short time after the CEO change but retired from that role a couple months later.

Via a spokesman, Lazaridis told CNET in a statement that Heins' appointment as CEO was part of a succession plan that Basillie and Lazaridis asked the board to implement in January 2012. The statement also said the board asked the two to reconsider their decision to step down from the co-CEO posts.

"I assured the board that I would assist Thorsten and his team in the transition and completion of the development of the BB10, "Lazaridis said in his statement. "With the launch of the BB10, I have fulfilled my commitment."

As Lazaridis noted, Heins subsequently has helped usher in the new BlackBerry 10 operating system and a rebound in the share price. However, worries remain about how well BlackBerry 10 and the company's new Z10 and Q10 smartphones will perform in the market.

BlackBerry today reported that it swung to a surprising profit in the fiscal fourth quarter amid early signs of progress with its BlackBerry Z10 flagship phone. The company said it sold 1 million units of the Z10 in the period though the results only include sales from a few early launch markets.

Corrected at 6:15 a.m. PT on April 1 to reflect that Lazaridis wasn't technically ousted as BlackBerry co-CEO but that he voluntarily stepped down amid stockholder pressure. The article also adds a statement from Lazaridis about his departure as co-CEO last year.
 

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