Wall Street's reaction to RIM's new CEO: Who cares?

Investors have been clamoring for new leadership atop the troubled smartphone maker. The reaction to the new CEO, however, has been anything but enthusiastic.

Investors are certainly a fickle bunch.

Research in Motion's headquarters. RIM

They've spent the last few months trying to dislodge co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie from their leadership roles at Research in Motion. So now that the CEOs have stepped down , what does the stock do? Drop another 2.7 percent to $16.53 in pre-market trading.

The collective shrug by Wall Street to RIM's management shakeup illustrates the underlying problems still facing the company. Despite a new CEO, the company faces the same old problems: overwhelming competition, next-generation phones that are coming far too late, and a brand that has lost its cachet among consumers. That the new CEO, Thorsten Heins, is a relatively unknown executive who has been with RIM for the past several years doesn't inspire much confidence.

"While we believe the market is likely to view the departure of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis favorably, we believe the lack of a high profile CEO or at least chairman from outside the company or a turnaround specialist will be disappointing to some, including us," said Kevin Smithen, an analyst at Macquarie Securities.

Indeed, Balsillie and Lazaridis aren't disappearing from RIM completely, with both remaining on the board and Lazaridis running a newly created innovation committee.

Wall Street was a bit more optimistic earlier this morning, but took a decidedly more pessimistic approach after Heins held his first conference call, insisting upon sticking with the company's strategy and claiming that the company didn't need any "drastic change." Investors were looking for a more complete break from the RIM of old, and Heins doesn't exactly fit the bill.

As a result, most Wall Street analysts kept their neutral to negative investment ratings on RIM, still unclear what to make of the situation.

"We see a risk that an insider was chosen to take the role could generate some disappointment," said Pierre Ferragu, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "We also worry that initial statements of the new management team seem to fully support the company's current strategy, which is unlikely to fully reassure investors."

Wall Street had sought an outsider willing to take some bold action to shake up RIM. When Stephen Elop was tapped to turn Nokia around, he brought a new perspective and wasn't afraid to admit that the Finnish company had gotten complacent and was in a lot of trouble.

RIM needs a CEO with that kind of fresh angle on the company. Yet Heins so far has largely showed support of the company's current direction.

"Thorsten Heins remains an insider, and we lack conviction on whether or not he will be making the sort of bold moves required (Android adoption, strategic partnerships) to put the company on a better track," Ferragu said.

Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ittai Kidron was more blunt with the title of his research note issued today.

"Too little, too late," he wrote.

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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