RIM’s New Playbook: The CEO Sneak

It was a big day for football fans, with both the AFC and NFC Championships taking place this afternoon and this evening. The games grab more than a few eyeballs every year — last year’s championships grabbed 54.8 million and 51.9 million viewers, respectively. While the numbers aren’t out yet for today’s games, the viewership is expected to be equally as enormous.

That’s why so many in the Twittersphere have been so quick to point out that, nestled quietly behind a hotly contested NFC Championship between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, and an equally great game over in the AFC, was a fairly huge announcement for the maker of BlackBerry, Research In Motion. During Championship Sunday, RIM quietly released a statement saying that its co-CEOs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, are stepping down and will be replaced by current COO for products and sales, Thorsten Hein.

It’s certainly no accident that they would make such a statement during a highly-publicized and much-watched event like the NFC and AFC Championships — even if they did benefit from close games, with one that ended in sudden death overtime. Thus, we’re calling it taking advantage of the “The CEO Sneak,” in honor of football’s time-honored play called the Quarterback Sneak. The CEO sneak is not employed as often as the quarterback sneak, so it’s good to see RIM taking advantage of the diversion to sneak in their announcement about its leadership changes.

And, again, this obviously big news for RIM, whose co-CEOs have been leading the company for the better part of decades. Unfortunately, RIM has been struggling mightily of late, and when a once-enormous public company falls on hard times, lays off thousands of employees, and loses large chunks of its market share to the competition, investors and shareholders are bound to get antsy. Many have called for new leadership, management overhauls, and even the sale of the company to a larger entity.

In fact, last year, several large investors in the Canadian mobile device company floated a proposal seeking to break up RIM’s co-CEO duo, arguing that operations (and chairman and chief executive positions) are best managed by one person. Pardon the bad joke, but you might see it as the officials throwing a flag for too many CEOs on the field.

The co-CEOs managed to retain their dual leadership, but today the pressure was too great. Both former leaders are saying that they were not forced out by the board of directors, but instead made the decision themselves, recommending that the board make Thorsten Heins the new CEO. It was a bold move to mollify its dissenters, especially in naming a new CEO that many are, at least to date, somewhat unfamiliar with in Heins. However, the new CEO will still have to contend with the shadow of the former leaders, as they will be staying on at RIM in board positions, with Lazaridis becoming vice chair.

If the former CEOs did in fact step down under their own volition, then there was no better time to let the news trickle out than on a Sunday — during the NFC Championship, when many would be distracted yelling at their TV screens and spilling beer on their remotes. And it’s certainly better than having to wait for the Super Bowl, which won’t be played until February 5th. There’s already been one notable Super Bowl Shuffle. Points to whomever comes up with the best spoof of the Super Bowl Shuffle for RIM.

If the company is confident in its new CEO and the management changes that are afoot (more in our latest post here), why hide it behind football? Why not do so proudly and boldly on a slow news day? (Granted, Sunday can be just that.)

So, what do you think readers, was this a smart move? And more importantly, do you think this management shuffle bodes well for RIM going forward? Will its stock jump on this Hail Mary, or fumble and dive? Weigh in and let us know. Let’s hope that the future of RIM is bright and won’t require a post like this.

Read RIM’s release here, and our coverage here.

And, as a bonus, here’s the guy who was leading the sneak, or being snuck, if you prefer. Can Thorsten Heins become RIM’s Tim Cook? Hard to believe so based on this video, but it is early in the game.

Image credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez