BlackBerry CEO: We have a lot of problems, but we're not dead

The always vocal John Chen ups his chances of survival to 80 percent from 50 percent.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile | 5G | Big Tech | Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Connie Guglielmo SVP, AI Edit Strategy
Connie Guglielmo is a senior vice president focused on AI edit strategy for CNET, a Red Ventures company. Previously, she was editor in chief of CNET, overseeing an award-winning team of reporters, editors and photojournalists producing original content about what's new, different and worth your attention. A veteran business-tech journalist, she's worked at MacWeek, Wired, Upside, Interactive Week, Bloomberg News and Forbes covering Apple and the big tech companies. She covets her original nail from the HP garage, a Mac the Knife mug from MacWEEK, her pre-Version 1.0 iPod, a desk chair from Next Computer and a tie-dyed BMUG T-shirt. She believes facts matter.
Expertise I've been fortunate to work my entire career in Silicon Valley, from the early days of the Mac to the boom/bust dot-com era to the current age of the internet, and interviewed notable executives including Steve Jobs. Credentials
  • Member of the board, UCLA Daily Bruin Alumni Network; advisory board, Center for Ethical Leadership in the Media
Roger Cheng
Connie Guglielmo
2 min read

BlackBerry CEO John Chen at a press roundtable session at the Consumer Electronics Show. Roger Cheng/CNET

The always-candid BlackBerry CEO John Chen just upped his company's chances for survival.

Chen, speaking at Recode's Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., said he gives BlackBerry an 80 percent chance for success. That's a lot higher than his previous estimate, which he said was a 50-50 chance of success.

"Yeah, we have problems, but it's not dead," Chen said. "I'm confident we will be able to save the patient."

BlackBerry is in the fight of its life as it struggles amid shrinking market share and continued losses. As a result of last year's failed bid to re-enter the consumer market for smartphones, it has shifted its focus to rely more on its business of serving big corporations and government agencies.

Chen was relatively candid for an executive, acknowledging that BlackBerry had to tap other platform ecosystems, but wouldn't go so far as to say it would create an Android smartphone.

He admitted the company, under previous CEO Thorsten Heins, got distracted by trying to add value to consumer smartphones.

"We cast our nets a little too broadly," he said. "The bigger play is in enterprise."

The new BlackBerrys will have larger screens, full physical keyboard, and the old productive features of its trademark messaging-centric smartphones, Chen said. They would be released around November, he added.

At the same time, he said he wasn't emotionally tied to any business, suggesting he would cut something if it didn't work.

Chen also weighed in on the company's decision to work on projects related to the Internet of Things, or the concept of every device being connected to each other and the Internet. He said it was critical to secure one's house -- otherwise you might never actually leave it if you get hacked.

On BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, he said it is easier to make money there selling virtual guides, stickers, and other goods. While BlackBerry maintains BBM is successful around the world, it has lost its popularity in more mature markets.

Chen draws from years in the enterprise business, with a particular focus on mobile. But he couldn't help by to joke about how he got his role.

"Am I the most qualified person?" he asked. "No, I guess I'm the only one they could find."