Off the RIM: The Worst Co-CEOs of 2011 Step Down

The two-headed beast at the helm of Research In Motion (RIMM) has been vanquished.

The BlackBerry maker's maligned co-CEOS Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis are stepping down. CEO Thorsten Heins is taking the reins. RIM's stock fell sharply on the news, but it's not as if the market is lamenting the loss of Balsillie and Lazaridis.

The smartphone pioneer's co-CEOs were at the top of many "Worst CEOs of 2011" lists thanks to the company's struggles to keep pace with the booming popularity of wireless gadgetry powered by Apple's (AAPL) iOS and Google's (GOOG) Android.

But as far as changes at the top are concerned, the market simply wasn't impressed because Heins is an insider. He's been at the company for a few years. Mirroring the dual CEO structure, he was one of two co-COOs at RIM.

The stock shed more than 8% of its value on Monday because investors felt that Heins is too close to the problem to find a solution. Those hoping for a radical makeover at RIM were naturally let down, especially after Heins' first comments as the Canadian company's new chieftain were basically to downplay the its shortcomings and argue that he's not inheriting a turnaround situation.

The Basket's Open But the Ball RIMs out

Bulls may argue that Heins is right. How can RIM be broken when it closed out its most recent quarter with a record 75 million BlackBerry owners? Sure, the company is losing gobs of market share to Android and iPhones, but the pie is clearly growing.

The one encouraging thing that Heins did this week is to say that his first move will be to bring in fresh minds on the marketing end. RIM isn't dead or dying, and he wants that message to get out there more effectively than it is now.

However, life isn't going to get any easier for RIM. The same corporate IT decision makers who always swore by BlackBerry as a secure and efficient platform for their companies have been talked into embracing the two consumer operating systems of choice. Nokia (NOK) is also in the process of releasing its first wave of phones powered by Windows Phone -- and IT departments have longer working relationships with Microsoft (MSFT) than they do with RIM.

This is a turnaround attempt, whether Heins concedes the point publicly or not.

Kicking the 'Co-' Habit

Because RIM has been a huge disappointment for investors over the past year, some may question whether having two CEOs got in the way of the company making the changes necessary to make it relevant again. Few similar dual leadership structures have been successful.

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Sometimes it's hard to take the setup seriously. When IMAX (IMAX) had two CEOs, they would literally both be given attribution to the same quotes in corporate press releases. Even if we all know that CEO quotes in press releases are typically the handiwork of crafty corporate communication departments (which then get CEOs to approve the spin-doctored quotes), it just felt silly to read a quote attributed to two executives as if they were saying it in unison.

IMAX held up reasonably well during its dual CEO tenure, but RIM is cautionary tale for companies that are so unsure about who they want at the helm or so fear losing or offending a senior executive that they end up splitting the CEO position.

Having a single CEO is the way to go. It encourages accountability. It sends a clear message. A CEO can wear many hats, but two CEOs should never have to share one.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and IMAX. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft.

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