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RIM gets a much needed house cleaning

New Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins isn't afraid to make some drastic changes, which is a good sign for the company.

Thorsten Heins
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins is embracing change.
Screenshot by CNET

commentary A few months into the gig, Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins has shown he's not afraid to pull the trigger.

On the heels of several high-profile departures, including that of former co-CEO Jim Balsillie, a number of other senior-level executives are also getting shown the door, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

The continued shakeup is badly needed at RIM. As I previously wrote, RIM was mired in a top-heavy company that contributed to its inability to deftly respond to changing trends in the mobile-devices business. On the last quarterly conference call, Heins talked about the need for change, and his push to instill the company with a new sense of energy. This is a solid step toward that goal.

Now, I'm usually not one to cheer when people lose their job -- especially in this economy -- and I generally don't cheer for anyone's misfortune. But the cuts are necessary for RIM to get back on track. This is the leadership team that saw RIM fall from its perch as one of the preeminent leaders in the business to a laggard some have already written off as doomed. Former co-CEOs Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were both removed from direct leadership, but many of the senior managers remained.

To truly change the corporate culture at RIM, Heins needed to clean house. With the recent changes, he's shown he understands this need, and is moving quickly. More importantly, he's shown since the conference call that he isn't content to stick with the mindset of the old guard, and has effectively distanced himself from the RIM of old.

That's a stark contrast from his early days, when he waffled on the need for change at the company.

One of the departing executives is Toronto-based Alistair Mitchell, vice president of RIM's BlackBerry Messenger instant-messaging platform, according to the Journal. Another is San Francisco-based Alan Brenner, an executive on the BlackBerry platform. I wouldn't be surprised if more cuts are coming.

I would expect more to follow in the coming weeks.

Still, a revamped management team and even a renewed sense of enthusiasm from within RIM may not be enough to turn the company around. There are a lot of issues out of the company's control, including the rate at which competitive devices enter the market, the Apple juggernaut continuing to plow through the industry, and wireless carriers.

But the company does have a fair amount of control over its own business. It can speed up the rollout of its BlackBerry 10 smartphone, or at least give people a good long look during the upcoming BlackBerry World event next month. It can open itself up more than it has in the past to strike up new partnerships, shoring up what had been weak areas such as entertainment, something Heins has signaled.

With some new people in charge, maybe RIM can pull off a comeback. The company appears better poised to do it than under its old regime just a few months ago.