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BlackBerry chief says turnaround in stage two

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 tone at the event, especially given that 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 on Tuesday.

While some shareholders used the opportunity of last year’s meeting 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 returned to his opinion that 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 position in the market 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 that 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.”

The majority of his speech was focused on a three-stage plan that included pushing ahead with new products yet to be unveiled, opening the BlackBerry Messenger service to other phones and focusing on corporate customers.

From there, Heins said the company aims to return to profitability, which he called the third stage of the plan.

Also at the meeting, shareholders voted to formally change the company’s name to BlackBerry (TSX:BB) from Research In Motion. The company has been using the new name since launching its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones in January.

Shares in the company were clobbered when it surprised investors last month when it reported a loss for its most recent quarter and Heins warned that further losses could be expected in the next quarter.

It also abandoned an operating system update to its PlayBook tablet that would have made it work seamlessly with the new phones.

Earlier this year, Heins gave assurances that an update to the PlayBook was on its way, though at the company’s recent conference in Orlando, Fla., he pulled back on those guarantees before completely ruling them out.

BlackBerry launched its Z10 phones, equipped with its new BlackBerry 10 operating system in January. The Q10 version with a keyboard was launched later in Canada, the U.K. and other markets.

During its most recent quarter, BlackBerry chief financial officer Brian Bidulka estimated the new devices accounted for about 40 per cent of the 6.8 million smartphones shipped in the company’s latest quarter, a total that would represent about 2.72 million devices.

The shipment figures, which offer an idea of how well the phones might be selling, suggested that while BlackBerry has focused much of its efforts on the launch of its new phones, the majority of sales still came from older models, particularly in emerging markets.