BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has a strong chance of being sued by shareholders for not being forthcoming about the company’s dire financial situation, business experts say.
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM last month reported a $518-million loss for the first quarter of 2012, its first quarterly loss in recent years and the surest sign yet that the company’s loss of smartphone market share to Android and Apple phones is throwing the company’s future into doubt.
But the publicity blitz that followed -- which featured CEO Thorsten Heins declaring that “nothing is wrong” at the BlackBerry maker -- has angered some shareholders who feel the company is still in denial about the magnitude of its problems, and has led some experts to suggest the company may be getting itself in legal trouble by deceiving investors.
“They’re going to get sued and they should get sued because I think a closer look at the record is likely to unearth knowing and willful misrepresentation,” Jean-Louis Gassée, a former president of Apple’s products division and current venture capitalist and blogger, told the New York Times. “When the C.E.O. says there’s nothing wrong with the company as it is, it’s not cautious, it doesn’t make sense.”
University of Western Ontario law professor Richard McLaren made similar points in an interview with Bloomberg West, suggesting that the company kept quiet on its true financial situation ahead of the recent earnings report.
“There’s a fine line between talking up the company and misrepresenting what’s going on, or not disclosing something which is a material change, and there seems to have been a change in the company between early May and the release of the financial results in late June,” McLaren said.
“If they knew about those upcoming events and were making statements that were ... not disclosing the financial problems, that’s a material change they should have disclosed.”
McLaren suggested the “securities commission” could also be interested in investigating, though he did not say whether he meant the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or the Ontario Securities Commission. RIM stock trades on the New York and Toronto exchanges.
Speculation about a shareholder lawsuit comes as the company holds its annual general meeting in Waterloo this week. IT World Canada reports that even though the meeting fell short of the all-out shareholders’ revolt some feared, many investors held back their support for members of the company’s board.
Twenty-two percent of shareholders voted against recently-appointed RIM board chair Barbara Stymiest, while 19 per cent voted against former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, who now sits on the board.
That is “not an overwhelming approval for each of the directors,” activist investor Vic Alboini, who has been among the most vocal critics of RIM’s leadership, told IT World Canada.
Shareholders applauded calls for changes to the way the company is governed, the Globe and Mail reported.
For his part, CEO Thorsten Heins seemed to have changed his tone somewhat since last week’s media blitz, declaring after the formal part of the shareholders’ meeting that “I am not satisfied with the company’s performance over the past year.”
Perhaps sensing that his “everything is fine” attitude wasn’t winning him accolades, the Research In Motion chief vowed to make the company a “lean, mean, hunting machine,” Reuters reported.
Heins defended the company’s decision to delay its new line of BlackBerrys featuring the BB10 operating system to the first quarter of next year, saying he would not compromise on release dates. He suggested some wireless carriers prefer the alter release date, because next-generation wireless infrastructure will be more fully developed by then.