BlackBerry’s pursuit of SAP personnel signals strategic shift

Canadian handset maker BlackBerry’s management restructure has continued with the appointment of Eric Johnson as president of global sales. Johnson is the fourth former SAP executive to join since John Chen took over as CEO, suggesting that the handset maker is looking to regain its focus on the enterprise market.

Chen joined BlackBerry in November 2013 from Sybase, an SAP company (acquired in 2010), where he served as chairman and CEO. It appears that he will remain at the helm for the foreseeable future, as BlackBerry has confirmed his job title is now CEO, rather than interim CEO. Since his appointment, Chen has recruited Johnson as president of global sales, former president of SAP’s mobile services business John Sims as president for global enterprise services, James Mackey as EVP for corporate development and strategic planning and Mark Wilson as senior VP of marketing. The latter two have previously worked at SAP and Sybase respectively. Ex-HTC and Sony exec Ron Louks also joined the firm as president for devices and emerging solutions.

On the announcement of Johnson, Chen said:  “The experience that the majority of the new leadership team has in working together previously will drive change within the organisation at a faster pace. I look forward to demonstrating these changes to the market.”

Tony Cripps, senior analyst at research firm Ovum, said that the recent recruitments indicate that BlackBerry is trying to refocus around its core market; the business and enterprise space.

“Having people of this stature involved with the business can only really be a good thing if that is what BlackBerry’s intentions are. The question really remains over what BlackBerry’s future might be in the consumer space. That’s a problem they have had since they first strayed into the consumer market, and I’m not sure they ever really addressed those problems.”

David McQueen, principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, said that there are also signs that BlackBerry is now putting less focus on the hardware business and it could end up selling off this division. One indicator is that current CEO Chen has a business software background and replaced Thorsten Heins, who has a hardware background having previously served as CTO at Siemens’ communication division, SVP of Blackberry’s handheld business and COO of product engineering.

“The way forward is software and the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service,” he said. “When you look at BlackBerry’s financial performance, revenues are quite high on the hardware side of the business but the profit is coming from services, and that is where it needs to play.”

“It does seem like this change in direction will be pushed through by the new appointments and it’s likely to be only a matter of time before it sells off the hardware business, just like Nokia has done.”

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