‘BlackBerry Remains Committed to India’
‘We passed danger! We have picked 10 countries right now, including India, to go beyond five countries where we have always been in. India is going to be a booming economy’
BlackBerry CEO John Chen is counting India among the countries that will be key to the company’s next phase of revival. Speaking to ET’s Danish Khan and Romit Guha, Chen said the company would invest in rebuilding the team, distribution network and on reviving its enterprise ties in India but asked for patience. Chen added that while he was confident of turning around the hardware business, he won’t wait indefinitely for it. Edited excerpts:
This is your first visit to India since you took over. What brings you here now? India at one time was quite a big market for us. Over the years, things have changed. So, I want to make sure that I see our people here, partners and the government. Also, see the market, and come up with a better idea and information about how we invest back into the market.
Would we see BlackBerry making some investments in India this year? Absolutely! We have to re-do the team first and our Indian operations are hiring people. Also, we just have got a couple of partners for enterprise mobility segment in India. So, we are broadening the distribution.
What is the outlook for BlackBerry? We passed danger! We have picked 10 countries right now, including India, to go beyond five countries where we have always been in. It needs time, it needs patience, but we are committed (to India). India is going to be a booming economy, especially the SME model, which is going to be big.
How is the company reviving its operations as part of the turnaround strategy? My first mandate was to get the financials back to normal and second mandate is to re-pivot the business. Our infrastructure has gone down, not only in India, but in a lot of countries, partly because we needed the cost structure to be right. Our focus is now shifting to enterprise and mobility, while handset remains important at only about 30%, against 100% two-three years back. Now, we are looking at growing economies, India and China certainly qualify for that. We are looking at markets where we have good brand like Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, the UAE and Israel. The company is here to stay, with security and enterprise being most important pillars. I think we have great products, but a weaker distribution.
What is the future of the handset business? BB10 OS is definitely not dead. The reason is even if I want to make it dead, I can’t because we have a lot of key government customers around the world that rely on it and will continue to buy it. The most important thing to me is to be able to make money because that business has very marquee names with various presidents and prime ministers using BlackBerry devices. BB10 OS lacked application support, but it is the most secure device. But if you just do that, you would never make money. In order to address the bigger market, we came with the Android-based smartphone. We decided to address the secured Android market, which is largely untapped. We reckon that we could serve the market much better than Apple. Apple can serve only on the device side. But we provide devices along with software and services.
NEXT STEPS My first mandate was to get the financials back to normal and second to re-pivot the business. The company is here to stay, with security and enterprise being most important pillars
What went wrong with Priv smartphones? We released our Android device just about when the high-end phone market went soft, so that was principally the reason behind the lukewarm response. However, execution could have been better because I tried to sell these phones through carriers as retail shops. I need to be more directly available to customers. I am not too concerned. I truly believe we can make money in handsets.
Can we expect affordable Android smartphones from BlackBerry? You would probably see more on the mid-price range, which is usually around $300-400. I doubt that BlackBerry can compete on the low end in this market.