CEO Gaffe of the Week: Research In Motion

Three weeks ago, I introduced a new weekly series, the "CEO Gaffe of the Week." Having come across more than a handful of questionable executive decisions last year when compiling my list of the Worst CEOs of 2011, I thought it could be a learning experience for all of us if I pointed out apparent gaffes as they occur. Trusting your investments begins with trusting the leadership at the top -- and with leaders like these on your side, sometimes you don't need enemies!

This week I want to highlight BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion's (NAS: RIMM) trio of CEOs: Jim Balsillie, Mike Lazaridis, and Thorstein Heins.

The dunce cap(s)
Have you ever had one of those "where to begin" moments? Well this is one for me. Research In Motion has been a train wreck for the past year, losing market share faster than you can blink to Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPhone. In their recently reported quarters, Google's sales jumped 25% and Apple's blew the doors off of analysts' expectations. As for RIM, it's sinking faster than the Titanic.

The biggest detriment to RIM has been its lack of innovation. Innovation is what allowed the BlackBerry to compete with the iPhone a few years ago, and now its lack of innovation is what's crushing the consumer side of its business. Essentially relegated to just the enterprise side of the mobile sector, RIM's smartphone market share has plummeted from 44% in 2009 to just 10% in 2011, according to marketing research firm NPD Group.

The primary culprits of RIM's demise have been co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis who have steered the ship directly into an iceberg. The company's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, has been rivaled in inferiority only by Hewlett-Packard's (NYS: HPQ) TouchPad, which flew off the shelves only after its price had been reduced dramatically. Priced at only $199, a far cry from its original $499 price point, the PlayBook is still collecting dust on many retailers' shelves.

With shareholders lined up with pitchforks calling for their ouster, Balsillie and Lazaridis obliged by stepping down this week and installing former chief operating officer Thorstein Heins as the new CEO. And how did Mr. Heins begin his tenure as head of the sinking ship? He assured investors that "no drastic change is needed."

Now, if you're a RIM shareholder, I'll give you a few minutes to go bang your head against a wall and grab a Tylenol, because the "steady as she goes" strategy has been working so well for RIM thus far!

To the corner ... all three of you!
All sarcasm aside, this week's move looks like nothing more than the former co-CEOs installing a puppet head to run their company. RIM's strategy simply isn't working, and staying the course is the last thing investors want to hear.

RIM is committed to launching its BlackBerry 10 operating system later this year along with a new series of smartphones, but I still have my concerns. For one, the BB10 OS has been delayed on multiple occasions, so I'm wondering if it can even hit its end-of-the-year target. Secondly, RIM may run into the same issue that Nokia (NYS: NOK) did with its in-house Symbian OS -- namely that no one liked it! That was the primary reason Nokia switched to Microsoft's OS last year. It would be a shame to put so much emphasis on its all-new BB10 OS and have consumers avoid the new product, but even that wouldn't surprise me.

These three stooges are set to go down with this ship unless they do something fast. Hope remains that RIM could find a buyer since it's still profitable and boasts a decent amount of cash on hand -- but don't hold your breath!

Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this dubious weekly gaffe honor? Shoot me an email and a one- or two-sentence description of why your choice deserves next week's nomination, and you just may wind up seeing your nominee in the spotlight. A special thanks to David Feldt for this week's recommendation via email.

Also, if you'd like a surefire way to avoid investing in companies with questionable leadership practices, I invite you to download a copy of our latest special report, "11 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks." This report contains a wide-array of companies and sectors that are likely to keep your best interests in mind regardless of whether the market is up or down. Best of all, it's completely free for a limited time, so don't miss out!

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He is merciless when it comes to poking fun at dubious CEO antics. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that never wears a dunce cap.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.