Layoffs may be over as BlackBerry looks to grow again

At least one stage of the company's turnaround process is complete, according to an internal memo obtained by Reuters.

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BlackBerry CEO John Chen at CES. Roger Cheng/CNET

BlackBerry has reached a milestone in its attempt to claw its way back from a near-fatal plummet.

The company appears to be finished with job cuts and is looking to actually start staffing back up, according to an internal memo sent out Friday by CEO John Chen and obtained by Reuters. A company spokesman confirmed to CNET on Tuesday that the memo's details are correct as reported.

BlackBerry is undergoing a transformation, forced by its failures in the consumer market over the past several years as Apple's iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android operating system steamrolled BlackBerry's previous reign in mobile devices. BlackBerry is shifting its failed focus on consumers back to corporate and government clients and is building on its strengths in security and mobile-device management. The transition has been painful, with the company laying off thousands of employees, including 40 percent of its work force, or 4,500 people, last September alone.

According to the memo, Chen said the company will start to hire in areas such as product development, sales, and customer service. He added that BlackBerry is on its way to hitting its target of turning cash flow positive by the end of the current fiscal year, which runs to March 2015.

That BlackBerry considers itself done with layoffs suggests a level of stabilization. The company tried unsuccessfully for a big comeback with the early 2013 launch of its BlackBerry 10 operating system, complete with four new devices. Questions remain whether BlackBerry devices can ever regain their popularity, even as the company once again targets high-end professionals.

Chen, a well-respected turnaround specialist from his time at business software provider Sybase, took the position as chairman and interim CEO in November and has been quick to get BlackBerry back to its core of serving corporations and government. In his tenure, the company has worked to produce a low-cost BlackBerry smartphone for emerging markets, as well as two higher-end devices: the Bold-like BlackBerry Classic and the wider BlackBerry Passport.

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The BlackBerry Passport has an unusual shape relative to an iPhone 5. Roger Cheng/CNET
At the same time, Chen has made cuts in other areas, including selling off real-estate holdings in BlackBerry's hometown of Waterloo, Ontario, dumping other non-core assets, and partnering with handset suppliers such as Foxconn to reduce manufacturing costs.

BlackBerry last week said it had signed a deal to acquire German software firm Secusmart. The acquisition is designed to help BlackBerry improve security for voice calls.

Update at 5:15 a.m. PT: A BlackBerry spokesman has confirmed that the memo's details are accurate as reported.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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