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BlackBerry taps former Sybase chief as interim CEO; analysts like the move

Matt Hamblen | Nov. 5, 2013
John Chen plans to focus on business model transformation

"With today's news, please know that our companies' strategy is not changing -- BlackBerry will continue to execute on its plans of driving adoption of BlackBerry 10 smartphones, rolling out its cross-platform BBM social messaging service and pursing computing opportunities by leveraging the secure and reliable BlackBerry Global Data Network," a spokeswoman said via email.

"We are excited to welcome this new leadership to BlackBerry and are confident that their expertise will propel our company into a new chapter that is rich with possibilities," the statement concluded.

Some analysts, including those at Gartner, have urged business customers to find alternatives to BlackBerry in the next six months, but Gold thinks the risk to enterprises is "minimal that BlackBerry won't be able to support them."

The $1 billion investment announced Monday "should help allay fears" by business customers, Gold said. "End users will still need to be convinced by the new devices and have to like the user experience, but enterprises should feel more comfortable now."

Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner, said that Chen's background at Sybase (now part of SAP) could be significant for BlackBerry's future direction. Chen and Sybase have produced mobile device and application management products, though not actual smartphones or other devices.

"The fact that the new CEO is not a device guy is indicative of where the company is going," she said. That may indicate a move toward more management software and services and bolstered support for larger customers reliant on the BlackBerry secure network.

It could also signal that BlackBerry is not interested in being split into parts, Milanesi said.

Chen served at Sybase from 1998 to 2010, when SAP acquired Sybase, after a long career at Siemens, Pyramid Technology and Burroughs Corp. He now is a director of Wells Fargo and The Walt Disney Co. While at Sybase he directed a company producing mobile management as well as data management and warehousing and analytics.

Chen said in a statement: "BlackBerry is an iconic brand with enormous potential -- but it's going to take time, discipline and tough decisions to reclaim our success. I look forward to leading BlackBerry in its turnaround and business model transformation for the benefit of all of its constituencies, including its customers, shareholders and employees."


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