RIM's Heins Deserves Props for Leadership

Tickers in this article: RIMM
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I still remember the moment I heard that Thorsten Heins had been named CEO of Research In Motion (RIMM) to replace Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. The one-year anniversary was last Sunday. I remember because it came in the middle of the NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.

I recall thinking: How can this company announce this news in the middle of this football game? It was the perfect symbol of how tone deaf the company had been with their shareholder base.

I'd never heard of Thorsten Heins but I assumed he was a puppet for outgoing co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, because a.) he'd worked at RIM since 2007 and b.) I had heard he'd been hand picked by Lazaridis.

For about the next six months, each time Heins spoke publicly, it seemed like he put his foot in his mouth. It was incredible to me how poor a communicator he was. In one of his first interviews, he said that RIM was doing just fine and the media and investors immediately jumped down his throat.

When RIMM pushed back the BlackBerry 10 launch to January this past summer, anyone who hadn't already written off RIMM did. Heins displayed no sense of urgency.

In July, I remember calling him the "worst communicating CEO I'd ever seen."

However, what wasn't obvious to me then, but which I began to hear over the end of the summer and then into the Fall, was that Heins was a solid, execution-focused CEO. Most employees actually liked him, even though he announced in the summer that he'd cut one-third of the workforce to conserve cash.

But in the past seven months, it's really impossible to point to any mistakes that Heins has made as CEO to this point a week before the critical BB10 launch.

The cost cuts. The cash management to date. Previewing BB10 to carriers and critical "opinion leaders." Offering cash awards for developers to port apps over to the new OS. Ensuring almost all of the top 100 apps were there. Delivering a snappy phone. Making the BB10 very interesting for their heartbeat-core enterprise and government customers (with "Balance" between work and personal). Offering existing users and CIOs incentives to move to BB10. Getting carriers onboard to support the new phones. Not selling the company at the lows or doing some partnership with another company that wasn't beneficial for RIMM but to make it look like RIMM had a big brother behind it.

Of course, the RIMM bears will say none of that matters unless/until Heins delivers a phone that is a hit. After all, almost everyone agrees that BB10 is a make-or-break moment for the company. So none of these moves matter if the new phones are a flop.