BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins put on a brave face for the company’s annual shareholder meeting today, just a few weeks after the firm reported an earnings loss that sent its shares plummeting. Heins said BlackBerry is still in the middle of its turnaround plan and asked investors for patience. He also said the company was open to any option that would create value for shareholders.
That caused some buzz. Perhaps, some thought, it meant BlackBerry was open to a sale, or to splitting its hardware and software businesses apart. When Heins was asked whether he’d consider a breakup, he didn’t say no. But he said BlackBerry had to create value before that was discussed. His comments pushed the shares up by as much as 3%.
The new BlackBerry 10 phones, which launched this year, were supposed to revitalize BlackBerry’s product lineup, seen as tired and stodgy in an age of increasingly snazzy smartphones. But the new phones have seen disappointing sales and BlackBerry reported a loss of $84 million in the first quarter, where analysts had expected a profit. Heins responded to that by saying the BlackBerry 10 line had only just launched, and that early sales weren’t a sign of their long-term potential.
That puts even more pressure on Heins to produce some positive results fast, or the calls for the company to sell or break up will grow louder. BlackBerry has faced such calls before and has managed to resist them. But the disappointments of the 10 series may be the last straw.
Previously, the Canadian government had been seen as an obstacle to a sale of BlackBerry, especially to a foreign buyer. The company is considered one of Canada’s national treasures. The government may also not want to see BlackBerry patents end up in foreign hands.
But BlackBerry’s performance is increasingly becoming an embarrassment rather than a source of pride. And at some point, letting go of BlackBerry may be a way to save it.