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RIM Needs to Hire a Visionary

NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- In 2011, we witnessed two of the greatest non-dot-com stock implosions of all time.

It seemed that throughout the year, particularly in the second half of it, Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) and Research In Motion (RIMM) battled for the title of most pathetic.

As much as Reed Hastings stumbled his way through the last six months of 2011 -- and as many problems as Netflix has -- he looked like a reincarnation of Steve Jobs compared with former RIM CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. (If Hasting had tried to bring an NHL franchise to Silicon Valley -- wait, it already has one -- I would have said they were all even.)

Step into 2012, and RIM made the type of management changes Netflix seemingly refuses to consider. It orchestrated a considerable shakeup.

The company essentially moved in stages, making leading statements and incremental moves to see whether it could quiet the media and activist shareholders.

When a little board tinkering did not work, RIM finally ousted the co-CEOs and promoted Thorsten Heins to the role. After shock wore off that one man can actually run RIM, I thought about comparisons between the Canadian company and Netflix a bit more.

Netflix has a visionary as CEO. RIM did not and does not. I don't think I will get much argument on Heins, but RIMM permabulls will certainly argue that Balsillie was a visionary.

"Was" is the operative word. While Balsillie deserves responsibility for turning BlackBerry into CrackBerry, shareholders rightfully heap scorn on him for for falling asleep at the Zamboni and reversing this success. Just consider some of the things Balsillie said as Apple (AAPL) was about to eat his company's lunch:

"For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that 7-inch tablets will actually be a big portion of the market and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience. We also know that while Apple's attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of web sites that use Flash. We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple ...
"As usual, whether the subject is antennas, Flash or shipments, there is more to the story and sooner or later, even people inside the distortion field will begin to resent being told half a story."
- Jim Balsillie, October 2010, from a statement published in Barron's
"You don't need an app for the Web. I don't need a YouTube app to go to YouTube. There's this view that Web sites need to be repurposed for mobile and you need a special set of tools to do it. We don't believe that to be true."
- Jim Balsillie, November 2010, as quoted in All Things D

Incredible. It really does not get much worse than that. And to think a considerable number of RIMM bulls defended Balsillie all of last year. Some still do.

So RIM essentially blows out a couple of nonvisionaries and hires another nonvisionary from within. His grand plan, as Richard Saintvilus points out, is to focus on the low-end mobile market. Although I understand why Richard thinks this is a smart approach, frankly, I am tired of everybody in tech doing either the same or thoroughly boring things.

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