BlackBerry exec Alec Saunders to leave company

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) executive Alec Saunders, who led the company's developer relations team and has been a key figure at the firm's QNX subsidiary as it has pushed into the Internet of Things market, is leaving the company in the next few weeks.

blackberry Alec Saunders


Saunders confirmed his departure in a post on his personal blog. "As you know, times and business circumstances change," he wrote. "Sometime between now and November 3 will be my last day at BlackBerry and QNX."

BlackBerry confirmed Saunders is leaving, but declined to elaborate on why or say who will replace him. "We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors," the company said in a statement.

On Twitter, Saunders said that he will be engaged in a "transition at BlackBerry, followed by a short vacation, then I'll be looking for my next adventure."

Saunders joined BlackBerry in 2011 as the company's vice president of developer relations following the departure of Tyler Lessard. He joined the company after the ill-fated rollout of the company's first tablet, the PlayBook, and at a time when the firm was working to develop the platform that would eventually become BlackBerry 10. After multiple delays, the company under former CEO Thortsen Heins unveiled its first BlackBerry 10 smartphones in January 2013, the Z10 and Q10. However, over the course of 2013 sales failed to materialize, in part due to a lack of applications compared to Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS platforms.

After the failure of its BlackBerry 10 phones, BlackBerry searched for a buyer and flirted with the idea of going private, but eventually BlackBerry decided to remain a publicly-traded company and brought in John Chen as CEO to turn around the business. In January, Saunders switched from developer relations to the role of vice president of QNX Cloud at BlackBerry's QNX Software Systems subsidiary.

"A number of folks have expressed regrets, or said they were sorry," Saunders wrote "No need. During my time at BlackBerry and QNX, we've achieved significant business results, built lasting friendships, created hundreds of fantastic memories, and learned lessons that we couldn't have learned anywhere else. These are far more important to me than a pay check, and I look back on what the company and our teams accomplished over the last three years with pride."

Saunders noted that his teams grew the number of apps in BlackBerry World from 16,000 to 265,000 in two and half years "That's a 1,650% improvement. To get there, we had to grow our developer base from 7,600 to over 70,000," he noted. "We orchestrated programs in 44 countries, built three generations of dev-alpha handsets, and seeded over 40,000 devices in 18 months."

(In June BlackBerry announced a deal to gain access to the 240,000 apps and games in Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Appstore, greatly expanding the number of apps BlackBerry 10 customers can use.)

In May BlackBerry launched a series of projects under the heading of "Project Ion" with the goal of using its expertise in data security to get enterprises to use its platform to connect devices as part of the Internet of Things. Saunders noted he recruited a team of eight people for Project Ion in just 90 days and that nearly 1,000 companies signed up for early access to information on Project Ion as a result.

Chen has made QNX and moving into the IoT market a strategic focus for the company, in addition to returning to its enterprise roots and coming out with new devices. In August, BlackBerry launched a new business unit to manage its patent portfolio and combine some of its top technologies. The unit, which will called BlackBerry Technology Solutions, or BTS, includes the QNX software unit for embedded wireless systems, the Project Ion platform, Certicom cryptography applications and Paratek RF antenna tuning. The unit is led by Sandeep Chennakeshu, who previously served as the president of Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) Mobile Platforms and CTO of Sony Ericsson.

Chennakeshu said in September that the IoT platform the company is working on will be focused on connecting machines and people to information and will also collect data that companies can use to take actions based on the data. He said the company wants to create a scalable and highly secure infrastructure for large-volume vertical applications such as fleet management.

Saunders wrote he will leave "with a light heart, and best wishes for today's BlackBerry team. I know that turning BlackBerry's business around will take heart, gumption, and hard work. I have faith that you will succeed, and I wish that you may look back on this period as one of your own 'career defining moments.'"

For more:
- see this Saunders blog post

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