BlackBerry boss says he doesn’t want to be dependent on handset business (updated)

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Updated on 4-11-2014: Speaking to Fox Business on Thursday, John Chen sought to clarify remarks made to Reuters a day earlier in which it appeared he was considering taking BlackBerry out of the handset business. 

“I actually do plan on making money in the handset business and I don’t have any plans to jettison the handset business,” Chen said, adding that he thinks it could take “6 to 8 quarters” to turn a profit.

And just to leave no one in any doubt about where BlackBerry stands with smartphones, he said, “We love the handset business and it’s really an identity for us.” All clear? We think so.


BlackBerry boss John Chen said Wednesday that if he can’t get its handset business in order then he’ll have to consider exiting it altogether.

“If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business,” Chen told Reuters.

He declined to give any specific information on how long he’s likely to give it, suggesting only that a decision will have to be made sooner rather than later.

Chen clearly has his work cut out to save the handset business. The Waterloo, Ontario firm shipped only 1.3 million handsets during the three-month period ending March 1 2014, almost 80 percent fewer than the same period 12 months earlier.

Reuters’ report added that the company is looking to boost its struggling business “with investments, acquisitions and partnerships,” with Chen citing possible tie-ups with companies in industries such as healthcare, as well as businesses involved in financial and legal services. As Reuters pointed out, such industries require a high-level of security in their communications, a feature on which BlackBerry built its reputation in the days when it was a leading player in the smartphone industry.

In another interview, also on Wednesday, Chen again focused on BlackBerry’s mobile devices, saying, “I don’t have a plan to get rid of handsets, I have a plan not to be dependent on handsets.” Speaking to news site Bloomberg, he added, “All I need to do is replace the handset revenue, and this company will be very different.”

Considering how much Chen made of his company’s recent partnership with Foxconn for the launch of new phones, and the fact that BlackBerry was built on the success of its handset business, many will find it hard to imagine the firm ever turning its back on the smartphone sector. Of course, if its mobile sales continue to plummet, it soon won’t have a market to leave.

The CEO has said several times recently that he believes BlackBerry will start turning a profit again by 2016, while Fairfax Financial, which injected a billion dollars into the company late last year as part of a long-term investment plan, said this week it’s pleased with the way Chen is handling the business, with its increased focus on monetizing areas such as its BBM messaging service and QNX software.

“John, in five months, has done so many changes. We’re very impressed,” Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa said, adding, “He’s hit the road running.”