BlackBerry Ltd. has put a 30-year veteran of Motorola Inc. in charge of its devices division in the latest executive shuffle of the Waterloo, Ont., company. Outgoing president of devices Ron Louks was one of chief executive officer John Chen’s early hires: Mr. Chen became interim CEO of BlackBerry in November, 2013, and brought in Mr. Louks in January, 2014. Mr. Louks was a veteran of the handset industry and had been a chief strategy officer for HTC America Inc. and a chief technology officer of Sony Ericsson.
Under Mr. Louks, the company released six phones, although he can be said to have overseen only four: the Passport (2014), Classic (2014), Leap (2015) and Priv (2015). The new head of devices has an even longer hardware track record: Ralph Pini spent 28 years at Motorola before he left in 2004 and was once chief technology officer of its Mobile Cellular Group. “I was a critical member of the team behind many Motorola products, including Razr, I have extensive knowledge of product design and customer needs,” Mr. Pini wrote in a Q&A BlackBerry posted on its blog.
Mr. Pini takes over at a tough time for the global smartphone industry. Reports from IDC and Strategy Analytics suggest shipments flat lined at around 334 million devices in the first quarter of 2016, and may have actually fallen for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, BlackBerry is hitting new lows in quarterly sales; most recently, it reported only 600,000 phones sold in its fourth quarter, which ended on Feb. 29. It has been six months since the launch of the latest BlackBerry handset, the premium-priced Android-powered Priv.
In April, Mr. Chen acknowledged that the Priv had been priced too high (it started at around $700 to $800 without a contract subsidy) “Softness in the high end of the smartphone market is a headwind,” he said. “That [price] segment appears to be quite saturated.”