Ex-BlackBerry CEO Heins: 'I have no regrets' (Q&A)

A year after exiting BlackBerry, Thorsten Heins weighs in on his time at the smartphone maker and dishes on his current phone.

Roger Cheng
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.
3 min read

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins with former "creative director" Alicia Keys at the BlackBerry 10 launch in January 2013. Sarah Tew/CNET

BlackBerry's comeback tour last year ended in disappointment.

At the wheel of that bus was Thorsten Heins, who kicked off a massive multicountry launch of the BlackBerry 10 smartphone, hired Alicia Keys as "creative director" and paid big bucks for a spot during the 2013 Super Bowl.

The irony? Those consumer-focused efforts sounded the death knell for any chance of the company returning to its once-lofty position atop the smartphone market.

Heins was ousted last November, replaced by current CEO John Chen who has shifted the company's focus toward business software and security. While BlackBerry smartphones remain in the mix, they're no longer the priority.

Heins, however, has re-emerged. This week, he was named CEO of wireless-charging company Powermat. Heins shared a few thoughts with CNET about his new gig, his time at BlackBerry and which phone he's excited to use. The following is a lightly edited Q&A.

Q: As the CEO of BlackBerry, you tried something that ultimately didn't work. What do you think you can bring to Powermat to help it succeed?
Heins: My experience in wireless goes way back in my career. I've always loved wireless. With all the growth in Powermat ahead of it, we need to scale. That requires operational skills. Given what I've learned at Siemens, and then at BlackBerry, when we had phenomenal growth between 2009 and 2010 where we had to scale dramatically, that [experience] will be a big deal for Powermat.

Q: Any regrets about your time at BlackBerry?
Heins: I have no regrets about my seven years at BlackBerry. I had a fantastic time there. And I'm especially proud of the last two years.

When I took over as CEO, it was a tumultuous time. I had to stabilize the company, financials, strategic direction, cost and operations. And I had to do all this while innovating on BB10 [BlackBerry 10], taking BBM [BlackBerry Messenger] cross platform and introducing BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server] 10.

I was restructuring the company while asking people who remained to run huge programs under huge pressure.

I've been proud to lay groundwork to give them the platforms that they can take to market. I think it's quite an achievement given the circumstances.

Q: What do you think of John Chen?
Heins: I will not judge John Chen and what he's doing. He's a very capable manager and CEO. He's executing on a strategy based on these [platforms] I was talking about. He has to complete the turnaround. He's working diligently.

I wish them all of the best success. They will have to work to look at where...they go from here. With components they have [in] areas like the Internet of things and secure networking, there is space to go. I wish him the success they deserve.

Q: So are you going to pick up the phone and call up your old buddies there to get wireless charging in BlackBerrys?
Heins: (chuckles) BlackBerry and Powermat were actually talking way earlier than this announcement. They've been in discussions for more than a year. But with BB10 and NFC [near-field communications], there was only so much you can impose when you build a new hardware and platform.

Q: So what phone do you use now?
Heins: I use the [BlackBerry] 9982, the Porsche version of the Z10. But I just received a package at home with a new Passport.

It was the last phone I designed with my team. That keyboard as a touchpad -- it's so cool.