TORONTO - BlackBerry, which has completed the first phase of its two-year turnaround plan, is now focused on profitability and will not spread itself thin by attempting to launch too many new devices, its chief executive said.
John Chen, who took the reins at the struggling mobile technology company in November 2013, has moved rapidly to try to get the one-time investor darling back on track. The company has sold assets, struck partnerships to lower manufacturing costs and broaden app offerings, and raised cash via the sale of real estate holdings in its hometown of Waterloo, Ontario.
"Once we turn this company to profitability again, I will do everything I can to never lose money ever again," Chen told Reuters in an interview this week. "That is definitely something I am very focused on doing."
The Hong Kong-born executive, 59, made his name at Sybase, a struggling database software firm that he rescued and sold a decade later to SAP for US$5.8 billion (S$7.47 billion) in 2010.
"If you look at my track record at Sybase, I think we made money for some 60 quarters in a row, even when the dotcom bubble blew up we were profitable. I like that philosophy," said Chen, who added he believes the worst is now behind BlackBerry.
"We will survive as a company and now I am rather confident," he said. "We're managing the supply chain, we are managing inventories, we are managing cash, and we have expenses now at a number that is very manageable. BlackBerry has survived; now we have to start looking at growth."
A year ago, the smartphone industry pioneer was in the midst of a painful restructuring, scrambling to find a suitor and trying to play down media reports of its "death spiral."
A year after Chen stepped in as CEO, BlackBerry may have regained some of its lost swagger. The company is hiring again and though it has yet to turn steady profits, Chen has begun acquiring small companies and investing in growth.
"He stepped in to catch a falling knife, which is what BlackBerry was at the time losing US$1 billion plus," said Prem Watsa, whose Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd is a major shareholder and which helped bankroll a debt recapitalization that led to Chen's arrival.
"He came in and very quickly stabilized it and very quickly laid out a roadmap to breakeven."