RIM's New Marketing Chief Makes No Sense

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Tuesday's shareholder meeting for Research In Motion (RIMM) was dead boring, with no real news. As a result, the stock got hammered on Tuesday -- down 6%.

One of the strangest things I found had to do with RIM's new chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben. He did an interview with Canada's Globe and Mail on Monday and a TV interview Tuesday.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins made a big deal on Tuesday during his remarks on his new management team that he'd personally assembled and was going to turn RIM into a "lean, mean hunting machine." (Seriously, he said that.)

Is there any other position on that team more critical than marketing? For years, RIM has emphasized engineering over marketing. Founder Mike Lazaridis believed that giving names to his devices was silly marketing fluff. So he decided all that was needed was a bunch of four digits for device names like 8900 or 9500.

Previous marketing executives at RIM likely could not have been hired into their current jobs at another company if they applied. The only reason they had such positions at RIM seemed due to the fact that they lived in Waterloo, Ontario, and had been hired earlier in the company's lifecycle and been promoted into their current position.

Therefore, given the company's precarious position at the moment, the marketing role appears to be critical for the successful launch of the BB10 operating system in their new phones and tablets in 2013.

So I was a little surprised by a few facts about Frank Boulben, the man they hired.

The first surprising fact about Boulben is that, although RIM likes to characterize him as a "French telecommunications veteran who has held senior roles at both Vodafone and Orange," his most recent job was the CMO at now-bankrupt LightSquared.

Boulben's defense?

'"The strategy was bang on," Boulben says, noting he signed 40 contracts with wireless giants such as Sprint. "I was not dealing with the regulatory part of it."

The second, more damning fact about him, in my view, is that he is going to be based in New York. I just don't understand how that will work. Either Boulben is going to hire a team of new marketing people who will be based in Waterloo and he will manage them remotely, or he's going to hire his team to be based in New York, completely disconnected from the rest of RIM.

Either way, it's an approach that is destined to fail. He should plug his nose and move to Waterloo if he really wants to build goodwill among the rest of RIM's management team and respect in the eyes of RIM employees. How are you going to be hire new marketing talent to move to Waterloo, if you're unwilling to move there yourself?

The TV interview included lots of royal "We"s from a guy who's been on the job for less than 60 days, as well as tough talk about how BlackBerrys were still the #1 device in South Africa, Nigeria and Indonesia despite problems in the US.

Boulben's best hope is to focus on simplicity. Stop producing 22 versions of the BlackBerry phone. Have two maximum, one touchscreen and one QWERTY.

This is Steve Jobs, circa 1996 when Apple ( AAPL) was 90 days away from bankruptcy. To pull Apple back from the brink, Jobs drew up a two-by-two matrix. They would do a desktop and a notebook. Some of them would be for consumers and the rest would be for business.

RIM needs some simplicity. However, how is Boulben going to lobby for this and win when he's working from his home office in Manhattan? Unless he moves to Waterloo, those running the show there -- Mike Lazaridis and Heins -- will continue to call the shots which will likely be similar to what they've previously done with marketing.

Thorsten Heins wants investors and the media to believe that RIM is now a different company since he took over. Decisions like the hiring of Boulben suggest it's still business as usual in Waterloo.

At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Eric Jackson is founder and Managing Member of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. In January 2007, Jackson started the world's first Internet-based campaign to increase shareholder value at Yahoo!, leading to a change in CEOs in 2007. He also spoke out in favor of Yahoo!'s accepting Microsoft's buyout offer in 2008. Global Proxy Watch named Jackson as one of its 10 "Stars" who positively influenced international corporate governance and shareowner value in 2007.

Prior to founding Ironfire Capital, Jackson was President and CEO of Jackson Leadership Systems, Inc., a leadership, strategy, and governance consulting firm. He completed his Ph.D. in the Management Department at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York, with a specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Governance, and holds a B.A. from McGill University.

He was previously Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at VoiceGenie Technologies, a software firm now owned by Alcatel-Lucent. In 2004, Jackson founded the Young Patrons' Circle at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is now the second-largest social and philanthropic group of its kind in North America, raising $500,000 annually for the museum. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson.

You can contact Eric by emailing him at eric.jackson@thestreet.com.

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