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商业 - 科技

“拯救黑莓”大戏第三季开播

Jessi Hempel 2013年11月27日

多年来,这家加拿大手机制造商已经换了三茬管理团队。眼下这个班子能把这家行将就木的公司救活吗?拯救黑莓宛如一出跌宕起伏的连续剧,如今已经播出到第三季,但大家依然猜不透结局。

    自从加拿大手机公司黑莓(Blackberry)把其股票代码从RIMM改为BBRY,至今已经快有十个月了。这次更名采用的是它那台一开始造就财富、后来却让公司千金散尽的手机名字。这个品牌重构计划是弗兰克?布尔本的主意。去年12月,我最后一次造访该公司位于滑铁卢的总部时,这位来自法国的营销高管向我展示了这个创意,当时他刚刚履新这家智能手机制造商的首席营销官一职不久。我们窝在公司那一排排灰色格子间当中的一个会议室聊这件事,而他信誓旦旦地表示,这些格子间很快就会被明亮多彩、合作共享的工作空间所取代。他说:“这将是一个全新的黑莓!”,一边把一台漂亮的手机样机推到我面前。

    而去年冬天,我们这些黑莓的旁观者们一度屏住了呼吸,大气也不敢出。

    当时这家科技巨头用一帮外来的高管换掉了自己的管理团队,还打算推出一对据信能拯救公司的手机。那些从一轮轮裁员中幸存下来的员工眼里重新燃起了希望。而这两部手机,噢,这手机真是太美了。比如Z10的触摸屏上那块键盘下面有个热图,当用户使用手机时,它能让各个按键的位置适应击键的方式(坦白说不管你的手指肥瘦如何,它都会导致一些拼写错误)。当初这家公司积极筹备冬季发布会时,那种激动人心的感觉是显而易见的。也许,只是也许,黑莓这次能不再搞砸。

    然后,然后就没有然后了。

    11月25日,黑莓宣布布尔本将离职,与他同时离开的还有首席运营官克里斯蒂安?蒂尔和首席财务官布莱恩?比杜尔卡,后者是黑莓的资深高管。布尔本和蒂尔都是首席执行官托斯滕?海恩斯招来的,而他自己也在三周前就离职了。除了黑莓的首席法务官斯蒂芬?泽泼斯特恩,公司唯一一位由海恩斯招募至今还未被驱逐的就是公司的首席创意官,歌手艾莉西亚?凯斯。

    海恩斯面临的任务一度极为棘手。2012年1月,当他取代那两位统治公司长达十年之久的掌门人出任首席执行官时,黑莓正深陷危机。黑莓7操作系统根本卖不动,那款名叫PlayBook的平板也一样。这家公司已经错失了好几次技术转型的绝佳机会:从物理键盘过渡到虚拟键盘;从3G无线通讯技术过渡到更快的LTE技术。由于此前公司一直长期处于超高速、颇为混乱的发展中,它的管理层变得极为臃肿——有两位首席执行官,三位首席运营官,而且他们的工作职能也多有重叠。2008年夏天,北美的智能手机市场迎来爆发式增长,黑莓的股价也攀上了144美元的历史高峰,而现在却在15美元左右低位徘徊。更有传言称,黑莓的账上其实已经没有现金了。

    分析师和股东们纷纷建议,公司迫切需要请一位翻盘专家来扭转危局。据海恩斯称,一开始只有一个公司内部人士在他主持的第一次电话会议中表示,行动研究公司(RIM)不需要来一场根本变革。说实话,海恩斯很明白这家公司当时的处境。去年采访他时,他对我说:“你不能走到员工面前说,‘这公司现在糟透了。’在我对媒体谈起复苏计划前,我必须先和自己的员工沟通,让他们为变革做好准备。”

    海恩斯最大的错误在于战略。他要挑战处于统治地位的智能手机巨头,想凭借造型优美的手机、时髦酷炫的软件在他们规定的游戏规则中打败他们。不过,尽管黑莓的新款手机的确漂亮,但它们上市时间太迟了,直到公司许诺时间几个月后才姗姗来迟的,同时,在庞大的智能手机用户群早已被谷歌公司(Google)和苹果公司(Apple)的产品所打造的应用生态圈俘获后,这两款手机基本上就没人关注了。更糟糕的是,海恩斯参与竞技的是一个第三名出局的市场。

    同时,海恩斯还聘请银行家来为公司可能的出售交易而估值。他对我说:“我也必须准备一套‘B计划’。”由于新手机在市场上遭到冷遇,海恩斯又开始花力气为公司找个买家,但这个愿望也落了空。在完成为期两个月的战略选择评估,同时与包括Facebook公司、联想公司(Lenovo)和几家私募股权基金公司这类潜在买家洽谈无果后,黑莓放弃了努力——同时也放弃了海恩斯。

    黑莓转而宣布将募集10亿美元,同时已经指定程守宗担任过渡期首席执行官。

    程守宗是迪斯尼公司(The Walt Disney Company)和富国银行(Wells Fargo)的董事,因为上世纪90年代末拯救赛贝斯公司(Sybase)而声名鹊起。2010年,赛贝斯公司以58亿美元的价格卖给了SAP公司(SAP),这是他当初刚来公司时市值的15倍多。不过摆在他面前这个拯救黑莓的重任恐怕要艰巨得多(众所周知他扮演的是一个“过渡性”的角色)。程守宗有一次接受行业博客CrackBerry的采访时表示,他对未来的展望是,聘用一位负责日常管理的首席执行官,而他自己将以下面这种方式对公司尽忠职守:“我会深入思考,听取所有人的意见和建议,然后再决定自己这个过渡期该是怎样一种过渡。”

    正如这周的新闻所表明的那样,程守宗的首要任务是打造一支全新的管理团队,这也是多年来的第三支团队,重建这家率先教会大家在掌上收发电邮的公司。他还需要整顿公司现有的员工队伍,他们很多人此前已听过不少对于改变的承诺。程守宗表示,他并没有取消手机业务的计划,而且打算让黑莓继续留在加拿大发展。

    如果确实还有人能将黑莓从行将就木的边缘挽救回来,这个人非程守宗莫属。不过下面这个问题也并不唐突:黑莓真的还能救活吗?

    译者:清远

    It has been almost 10 months since the Canadian business mobility company BlackBerry ditched the RIMM ticker symbol for (BBRY), renaming itself after the device that made -- and then lost -- its fortune. That rebranding was Frank Boulben's idea. The French marketing executive showed it to me in December during my last trip to Waterloo, shortly after he'd become chief marketing officer of the smartphone maker. We'd bunkered down in a conference room embedded somewhere within the company's halls of gray cubicles, which he boasted would soon be replaced with bright and colorful collaborative workspaces. "It's the new BlackBerry!" he told me, pushing a gorgeous demo phone my way.

    For a moment last winter, we BlackBerry watchers held our breaths.

    The tech giant had replaced its management team with a band of executive outsiders and was about to launch a pair of devices it believed could save the company. Employees who had survived rounds of layoffs were energized again. And the devices! Oh, the devices. They were so beautiful. On the Z10, for example, the touchscreen display boasted a keyboard with a heat map beneath it so that, as customers use it, the position of keys adjusted to their keystrokes (leading to few spelling mistakes, to be fair, no matter how fat your thumbs). As the company prepared for its winter unveiling, the excitement was palpable. Maybe, just maybe, BlackBerry will get it right this time.

    Then it was over.

    On November 25, BlackBerry announced Boulben will leave the company along with Chief Operating Officer Kristian Tear and Chief Financial Officer Brian Bidulka, a longtime BlackBerry exec. Both Boulben and Tear were recruited by chief executive Thorsten Heins, who left the company three weeks earlier. Apart from BlackBerry's chief legal officer Steven Zipperstein, the only one of Heins's high-profile hires who hasn't publicly been ousted is the company's chief creative officer, singer Alicia Keys.

    Heins had a tough job. When he took over as CEO in January 2012, displacing the duo who had run the company for a decade, BlackBerry was in crisis. The BlackBerry 7 operating system wasn't selling, nor was its tablet, the PlayBook. The company had missed several technology transitions: from physical keyboards to virtual; from 3G wireless communication technology to faster LTE. Having been in a state of chaotic hypergrowth for so long, it had layers of management -- two CEOs and three COOs to start -- with overlapping responsibilities. The stock, which had peaked at $144 when the company dominated the explosive North American smartphone market in summer 2008, was idling at $15. And rumors had surfaced that BlackBerry had no cash.

    Analysts and shareholders alike cried out for a turnaround specialist. In Heins, they instead got an insider who suggested in his first conference call that RIM did not need a turnaround. To be fair, Heins understood the position in which the company found itself. When I visited him last year, he told me: "You can't go in front of your people and say, 'This company is in deep shit'," he said. "Before I talked to the media about a turnaround, I had to talk to my people and prepare [them] for what was to come."

    Heins's biggest mistake was one of strategy. He attempted to take on the ruling smartphone oligopoly by besting them at their own game, creating sleeker devices with snazzier software. But as beautiful as BlackBerry's new devices were, they were late to market, launching many months after the company had promised, and they went largely unnoticed by a sea of smartphone users already entrenched in the app ecosystems of Google (GOOG) and Apple's (AAPL) products. What's more, Heins was competing in a market in which the third player was getting pushed out.

    At the same time, Heins hired bankers to evaluate the company for a potential sale. "I had to plan for a 'Plan B' as well," he told me. As BlackBerry's devices met with a tepid response, Heins put more effort into finding the company a suitor. But that didn't work either. After completing a two-month review of strategic options and talking with potential buyers that included Facebook (FB), Lenovo and several private equity firms, the company abandoned its efforts -- and also Heins.

    Instead, BlackBerry has announced it will raise $1 billion, and the company has appointed outsider John Chen as an interim CEO.

    Chen, who sits on the boards of both The Walt Disney Company (DIS) and Wells Fargo (WFC), gets credit for saving Sybase in the late 1990s; in 2010, the enterprise software company sold to SAP (SAP) for $5.8 billion, more than 15 times the company's market cap when he first came on board. But the BlackBerry job before him is arguably harder. (It is notable that his role is deemed "interim.") In an interview with the industry blog CrackBerry, Chen said he envisioned a future in which he hired a CEO for day-to-day management, framing his commitment to the company this way: "I'll think through and listen to everybody else and what their advice is, and then I'll decide how interim is interim."

    As this week's news suggest, Chen's first order of business is casting a new management team, the third in as many years, to rebuild the company that first taught all of us we could check email from our palms. He'll need to rally the company's remaining employees, many of whom have heard promises of change before. Chen has said he doesn't plan to abolish the handset business, and he wants to keep BlackBerry in Canada.

    If anyone can save BlackBerry from a slow death, it is Chen. But it's not impolite to ask: Can BlackBerry be saved at all?

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