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BlackBerry CEO trying to improve relationships with big customers

BlackBerry CEO trying to improve relationships with big customers - image
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, dapd, Volker Hartmann

WATERLOO, Ont. – BlackBerry chief executive John Chen is meeting with some of the smartphone company’s biggest customers, from government agencies to the world’s biggest banks, in hopes of mending relationships neglected when it rolled out refreshed devices last year.

“We should have talked to the customers more when we launched new technology,” Chen said Friday after the release of BlackBerry’s latest quarterly financial results.

“It is my opinion that we didn’t do enough of it.”

Chen treads carefully in talking about BlackBerry’s past after being hired last November to turn the faltering company around. But he says lessons have been learned and the company is already trying to correct some of its missteps.

On Friday, the fourth-quarter results showed some of that progress.

BlackBerry’s posted a loss of US$423 million or 80 cents per share for the three months ended March 1, a vast improvement from the multibillion-dollar loss it booked in the third-quarter, but still below the $98 million profit, or 19 cents per diluted share, posted a year earlier.

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READ MORE: BlackBerry reports $423 million Q4 loss

Excluding several one-time items, BlackBerry reported an adjusted loss from continuing operations of $42 million or eight cents per share. The average analyst estimate compiled by Thomson Reuters had been for a deeper loss of 55 cents per share.

However, revenue fell below analyst predictions, coming in at $976 million compared with $2.68 billion a year ago. Analysts had expected about $1.1 billion and BlackBerry shares closed down more than six per cent, or 65 cents, at C$9.31 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Chen indicated there was still plenty of work ahead in turning the company around. “There’s so many things that need to be fixed,” he told reporters at the company’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ont.

As part of its effort to lower costs and get some value from its assets, the company has decided to sell a majority of its Canadian real estate holdings to various buyers.

Some went to the University of Waterloo under an agreement that would also allow the company to lease back select properties, while others were sold to a buyer that has yet to be identified.

The property sales raised questions about whether BlackBerry’s long-term future in Waterloo was in doubt, but Chen said he intends to keep the company’s headquarters in the city and maintain its QNX division in Ottawa.

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“I don’t have any plans to move out of Canada,” he said.

BlackBerry will unveil more keyboard smartphones over the next 18 months designed primarily for its corporate customers. Chen hopes the company will be able to market to them through new sales teams that cater to major sectors like government, financial services and health care clients.

READ MORE: BlackBerry aims to profit from BBM

He also hopes to hire more research and development engineers.

“It’s very important, so we need to start focusing on that while we finish off the tail end of our cost-reduction plans,” he said.

Other changes are in the works as Chen continues to reorganize the company with a goal of reducing costs. That plan includes the elimination of about 40 per cent of the company’s workforce before the end of May.

When he took the leadership role last November, Chen had to immediately get a tighter control on expenses, he said, because surveying the problems at the troubled company sequentially would’ve taken too long.

“You cannot ever cut yourself to glory,” he said.

“That transition was one of the most difficult things in the beginning.”

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