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How BlackBerry Could Survive Another Year

How BlackBerry Could Survive Another Year
John Chen, chief executive officer of BlackBerry.
December 27
10:13 2014

John Chen isn’t a CEO plagued with doubt. That’s an essential quality for anyone who has taken on the formidable task of turning around around BlackBerry — but Chen also lacks the rose-colored optimism of some turnaround CEOs who, quarter after quarter, plead with investors for just a little more time.

Chen’s leadership more than anything is keeping investors from giving up on BlackBerry. When the company reported its latest quarterly earnings Friday, its stock fell 10% for an hour or two, but by the end of the day it was unchanged on the day. The stock has risen another 8% since then.

The initial selloff was triggered by revenue numbers well short of analysts’ expectations. Revenue from devices like the recently launched BlackBerry Passport fell 24% to $361 million. Even worse, revenue from mobile service subscriptions fell 42%, to $368 million. Software, seen as the company’s best hope for growth fell 4% to $54 million.

The stock didn’t begin its slow comeback until Chen took to the phone to discuss the company’s results. Chen said BlackBerry’s revenue figures were “not satisfying,” but he explained that the average selling price of $182 per device — well below expectations — was due to the company purging its inventory of older devices. The good news: BlackBerry’s cache of older models has fallen 93% in the past year.

BlackBerry sold 1.9 million devices in the quarter, shipping only 200,000 units of its new Passport. But a backlog of orders meant many Passports won’t be recognized as sales until this quarter. Chen also said that early orders for the BlackBerry Classic – with new technology stuffed into a familiar design – are already surpassing the Passport’s early demand.

BlackBerry’s decline in services revenue, however, is a long-term drain that the company has little chance of stopping. Carriers once paid BlackBerry to manage secure email and messaging, but now they can handle that themselves. So BlackBerry is now pushing software like BES12, a mobile platform aimed not at consumers but banks, healthcare companies and governments.

Many of those companies favor the mobile security that BlackBerry has long offered, something that may grow more attractive in the wake of several recent high-profile corporate hacks. Chen has said BlackBerry will double its software revenue, which currently stands at around $250 million annually, in the coming year.

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