BlackBerry ousts yet another exec: Alicia Keys

The company says Keys only had a one-year contract

Financial trends and news by Faith Merino
January 2, 2014
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2013 was supposed to be a big year for BlackBerry. It was supposed to be the year of BlackBerry 10—of the Z10 and the Q10! Of the Hub and BlackBerry Balance! The company even rebranded to BlackBerry from RIM. But the company’s rebirth just…never seemed to happen. As you may recall, Alicia Keys was dubbed the company’s new creative director back in January 2013 in what could only have been an elaborate PR move to bring some “cool” back to the BlackBerry brand.

But now, after just one year on the job, Alicia Keys—like so many other executives—has been given the boot. The singer will reportedly be leaving her position as creative director on January 30, according to a report from Canadian news source CTV.

Keys’s termination follows a long string of layoffs, including Chief Operating Officer Kristian Tear, Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben, Chief Financial Officer Brian Bidulka, VP of Strategic Alliances Chris Wormland and EVP of Global Sales and Regional Marketing Rick Costanzo. Interim CEO John Chen has been on a firing spree since he was appointed to the position in November. But while the other executive layoffs are probably more strategic in nature (purging those aligned with the former BlackBerry/RIM trajectory), the firing of Alicia Keys is probably less strategic and more “let’s stop paying someone to make us look good.”

BlackBerry says that the move isn’t a termination at all, but that Keys was brought on for a one-year contract, which is expiring at the end of January.

“BlackBerry and Alicia Keys have completed our year-long collaboration,” the company said in a statement. “We thank Alicia for her many contributions including providing creative direction for the BlackBerry Keep Moving Project, which attracted more than 40 million visits, advocating for women in STEM and launching the BlackBerry Scholars Program. We have enjoyed the opportunity to work with such an incredibly talented and passionate individual.”

At the time of Keys’s appointment to the role of creative director, there was no word of a one-year contract, but either way, the shareholders are pleased. Shares are up 2.82%, closing at $7.65.

Of course, BlackBerry isn’t the first company to bring on a famous face as a new “executive.” Lenovo hired Ashton Kutcher as an “engineer” in November. In 2011, Intel named its new Director of Creative Innovation. And in 2010, Lady Gaga was brought on as Creative Director of Polaroid—of all things. (I like how the word “creative” becomes a blanket term to cover the nebulous job responsibilities of a recording artist at a technology company.)

Unlike Intel and Lenovo, however, BlackBerry has been on the brink of collapse for months. Whether or not there really was a one-year contract, Keys’s “firing” was definitely necessary, considering the fact that BlackBerry is in the process of laying off 40% of its workforce. That adds up to 4,500 real employees—who do real things.

BlackBerry’s Q3 earnings, reported last month, were some of the ugliest yet. The company reported $1.2 billion in revenue—a decrease of more than 52.6% over the same quarter a year ago—when analysts were expecting $1.59 billion in revenues. The company saw a loss of $4.4 billion, or $8.37 per share. 


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