RIM Director to BlackBerry Critics: No, You’re the Idiots

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Research in Motion

Roger Martin, the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, is also a board member of BlackBerry maker RIM. And in an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Gordon Pitts, he’s anything but sheepish about the challenges that RIM currently faces.

Let’s see. Martin says that people who argued for ousting longtime co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie believed RIM should turn itself over “to children, or morons from the outside who will destroy the company.” He mocks outsiders who argue that RIM should split up its hardware and software business as “geniuses.”

Okay, he thinks that pundits are dopes. We get that. If I worked at RIM, I’d probably be prickly myself. But Martin also seems to say that the customers who have opted for iPhones over BlackBerries over the past half-decade are clueless:

People were saying we can’t make powerful phones like Apple. Yes, we can, but we couldn’t believe consumers would put up with that kind of battery inefficiency and that kind of network inefficiency.

Bad consumers! Bad, bad consumers!

Martin’s stance appears to confirm the conventional wisdom that RIM simply didn’t understand the iPhone after Steve Jobs announced it in January 2007. Rather than ensuring a bright future, the company’s enormous success and obvious competence in the smartphone world left it unable to identify a sea change when it saw one. That’s a powerful case study for an institution such as the Rotman School of Management right there.

Martin does acknowledge some mistakes on RIM’s part, but like other company execs, he seems to think that weak marketing, rather than weak products, has hobbled the company in recent years–as if better ads would have made the BlackBerry PlayBook a winner. Which is yet another instance of RIM being unable to face the possibility that it’s lost its ability to build devices that the savviest businessfolk and consumers will crave.

Along with Lazaridis, Balsillie, and new CEO Thorsten Heins, Martin is a RIM insider whose public pronouncements don’t provide much evidence that he understands the present and future of the smartphone industry. But at this point, no chatter about RIM matters much. It’s the upcoming next-generation BlackBerry models that will talk for the company. And they’ll say one of two things: either that RIM is back on track in a big way, or that it still doesn’t get it.