BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) CEO John Chen gave the company an 80 percent chance of turning its business around--higher than the 50-50 odds he offered in March--and said the company will do so by focusing more squarely on its core enterprise customers.
Chen spoke candidly about the challenges facing the company, which research firm IDC forecasts will capture just 0.8 percent of the global smartphone market in 2014. "We have a lot of problems," Chen said Wednesday at the Re/code Code Conference. "But it's not dead." He said he is "quite confident that we'll be able to save the patient," despite the fact that BlackBerry posted an annual loss of $5.9 billion for the year that ended March 1.
How is Chen going to turn around the company? Mainly by returning to its roots and focusing on the needs of enterprise users, a theme he has hit on repeatedly since taking the helm from Thorsten Heins last November. Chen obliquely criticized BlackBerry's push in 2013 to reignite its consumer smartphone brand under Heins and his leadership team.
"We're going back to our enterprise roots," the BlackBerry chief said. "I don't really want to comment on past management decisions, but we cast our net a little too broad. At the same time, we haven't really added value to the enterprise space."
Chen said the company's focus on smartphones, security systems, apps and servers for enterprise would be its driving force, as well as an emphasis on certain vertical markets, such as medical. Still, the company faces an uphill battle in getting developers to care about its BlackBerry 10 platform.
"We're working on some of that stuff," Chen said. "We're going to have to tie ourself in some way--and I don't know what the innovative way is yet--to preserve the BlackBerry value add of security, productivity and collaboration."
When Chen took over he said he found the phone business to be in weaker shape than he imagined, even though BlackBerry has strengths in embedded systems and the connected car market via its QNX subsidiary. Going forward, Chen said BlackBerry's phones will have larger screens and will return to the physical keyboard and productivity hallmarks of the era when BlackBerry ruled the smartphone market.
Chen also discussed the company's recent foray into the Internet of Things market. The company's "Project Ion" initiative relies on a cloud back-end infrastructure and BlackBerry's QNX software to let devices send information to the cloud. BlackBerry will use its expertise in data security to get enterprises to use its platform to connect all manner of devices.
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