In August, he became one of two chief operating officers, overseeing the BlackBerry smartphone portfolio.
Heins, 54, was born in Munich and graduated from the University of Hanover in Germany. He has held a laundry list of international management positions with hardware and software businesses, particularly in research and development and customer service.
He spent more than two decades with German engineering giant Siemens before joining RIM. He was chief technology officer in RIM’s communications division before moving with his wife and two children to Waterloo.
Five years later, in a surprise move, the virtual unknown has become the person in charge at the struggling tech company.
RIM’s ever-sinking value and market share had many industry experts calling for the heads of its co-CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, but few expected the sudden restructuring move Sunday that left Heins in charge.
“There comes a time in the growth of every successful company when the founders recognize the need to pass the baton to new leadership,” Lazaridis said in a news release.
“Thorsten has demonstrated throughout his tenure at RIM that he has the right mix of leadership, relevant industry experience and skills to take the company forward,” he said.
“We have been impressed with his operational skills at both RIM and Siemens.”
Lazaridis is expected to work closely with Heins on strategic initiatives in his new role as vice-chair of RIM’s board and chair of the board’s new Innovation Committee.
“Mike created a whole new way of communicating and I look forward to continuing our close collaboration,” Heins said in the release.
He said he believes that RIM has tremendous potential and a strong foundation on which to build.
The new CEO is now tasked with turning around the flailing company that has seen its numbers fall steadily for the past months.
Heins’s top challenge will be to lead RIM’s transition to next-generation products running on a new operating system, which has suffered from delays. In December, RIM said the first BlackBerrys based on the new system, called BB10, won’t be available until the latter part of this year.
The company also had a nine-month delay in getting email onto its PlayBook tablet computer. The technical difficulties and marketing missteps have left PlayBook shipments at a little more than 1 per cent of those for Apple’s iPad.
Heins said he plans to emphasize discipline in RIM’s execution to make sure the company sticks to schedule.
“When you say we’re bringing a product to market, you make sure you execute,” he said.
BB10 is out later this year and new versions of the PlayBook are expected to ship in February.
Heins is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce Inc. In his free time, he can be found outdoors motorcycling, bicycling, skiing or hiking.