BlackBerry comeback doubt: Jim Balsillie abandons ship, sells entire 5.1% stake in the firm he helped build

BlackBerry comeback doubt: Jim Balsillie abandons ship, sells entire 5.1% stake in the firm he helped ...

Former Research In Motion (RIM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who has been replaced by CEO Thorsten Heins leading the newly rebranded BlackBerry, has sold off his entire stake in the company. The move couldn’t have come at a worse time for the struggling Canadian firm: Balsillie is abandoning ship before BlackBerry 10 devices even go on sale in the US.

As CNET points out, a year ago Balsillie was one of the largest individual shareholders in BlackBerry, then RIM, owning 26.8 million shares of stock, that’s a 5.1 percent stake in the company he helped build. Now he owns zero, according to a regulatory filing made with the SEC today.

The latest step is one in a series of moves that show the Canadian from Seaforth, Ontario has lost faith in BlackBerry. On January 22, 2012, Balsillie, along with co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, resigned his position, to be replaced by then RIM COO Thorsten Heins. On March 29, 2012, the company announced that Balsillie would be stepping down from the Board of Directors.

Balsillie had thus cut all ties with BlackBerry, except for his stock. Now the final puzzle piece has been placed, just under a year since his last move. Leaving the board was seen possible sign of disagreement over Heins’ strategy for the company; at the time, Balsillie reportedly wanted to continue RIM’s existing tactics, while new CEO Thorsten Heins believed a major shift was required and has been enacting proposed sweeping changes ever since.

Now it looks like Balsillie has finally put his money where his mouth is. He waited for the platform to launch, but whatever early sales numbers BlackBerry has seen (devices have already arrived in the UK and Canada) didn’t persuade him to keep his shares. The company’s stock fell some 6 percent when the news broke but has rebounded since.

Many will see this as a clear indication that BlackBerry 10 is already failing out of the gate. While some will argue that Balsillie would have made the move regardless, any man with business sense would keep money invested in a company that he had reason to believe would recover.

At the same time though, Basillie helped make countless poor decisions that helped BlackBerry fall from its perch as the number one smartphone maker in the world. As such, it’s hard to trust Balsillie’s judgment, even if he played such a key role in the company for so long. The truth is his strategy with RIM was a good one early on, but it eventually turned into one that quickly spiraled out of control.

In short, BlackBerry 10 has taken yet another hit, sparking speculation on how many more blows it can handle. Regardless of whether the ex co-CEO is making a good move for his financial portfolio, it’s still bad news for BlackBerry to see balking Balsillie bail.

Image credit: Mark Iafrate

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