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BlackBerry investors hopeful

Most give CEO positive feedback at meeting

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BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins speaks during the annual and special meeting in Waterloo, Ont.

GEOFF ROBINS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins speaks during the annual and special meeting in Waterloo, Ont.

WATERLOO, Ont. -- BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins stood before shareholders of the smartphone-maker on Tuesday and asked for patience as the company pushed ahead with its goal to become profitable again.

"We are still in the midst of a major, complex transition of this company, and like most of these transformations... progress can be volatile," Heins told the BlackBerry annual meeting.

"BlackBerry will pursue every opportunity to create value for shareholders," he added.

Investors generally took an optimistic and loyal tone at the event, especially given their shares have been pummelled since the company reported a first-quarter loss less than two weeks ago and its stock dropped 28 per cent.

The market also appeared to feel encouraged as BlackBerry shares closed up 10 cents at $10.20 on the Toronto Stock Exchange Tuesday.

It was a noticeable shift from a year ago, when several of the company's shareholders used the annual meeting as an opportunity to express their concern over the company's future. This year, a few took to the microphones to express their hope for BlackBerry's future and its significance to Canada.

"I am not somebody who thinks the company should be broken up," said one shareholder to a round of applause from the crowd.

"I don't believe that's a way to create wealth in this country."

Activist shareholder Vic Alboini of Jaguar Financial, who has been a vocal critic of the company, even took a moment to tell Heins how pleased he was with the progress so far, but he also repeated his opinion the company should consider breaking apart its operations to sell them off.

Heins downplayed the option, but didn't rule it out, saying the company needs to be in a stronger market position first.

"Before you go into any option, you have to create value, and the value of the company 15 months ago was way less than today," he said.

In the meantime, Heins said he's aware some investors aren't pleased.

"Clearly, in the short term, investors expect better results and faster progress from us," he said.

"I can assure you, we are driving night and day to implement the improvements in our company necessary to build this as a strong company for the long term."

Much of Hein's speech focused on a three-stage plan that included pushing ahead with products yet to be unveiled, focusing more on corporate customers, and opening the BlackBerry Messenger service to competing devices such as Apple's iPhone and smartphones on the Android operating system later this summer.

From there, Heins said the company aims to return to profitability, which he called the third stage of the plan, but he stopped short of predicting when that would happen.

Others weren't quite as enthused, including one shareholder who told Heins a recent visit to the U.S. left him with the perception that the rollout of BlackBerry's Z10 touchscreen phone "was a disaster" because of minimal advertising and retailers who weren't properly trained on the device's abilities.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 B8

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Updated on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 7:44 AM CDT: adds sidebar

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