BlackBerry CEO John Chen Is Creating the Unimaginable: Optimism

John Chen is smart, focused, down to earth and pleasant. People are starting to think BlackBerry might not die after all.

John Chen took over at BlackBerry in November, and already things are looking up for the company. Shares have risen 30 percent since November, according to CNN Money; analysts are feeling upbeat about the company's prospects; and missing from the media reports from the Consumer Electronics Show was the snark and doom-saying that have nipped at BlackBerry's heels for years.

While former CEO Thorsten Heins seemed determined and hardworking but anguished by his burden, Chen has all the lightness of a man tasked with cleaning up a mess he assumes zero blame for. He has a straightforward but down-to-earth demeanor that people clearly respond to.

"We met with CEO John Chen at CES and like that 1) finally the focus is squarely on the enterprise and software/services; 2) the new Foxconn relationship could and will likely expand, de-risking much of the consumer handset business," investment firm Jefferies wrote in a Jan. 8 Flash Note to investors.

Tech site N4BB, responding approvingly to Chen's response to BlackBerry's lawsuit against Typo and upcoming device plans—Chen said he was suing because he can and it's good business, and that it was silly to pretend that the company's plan hadn't been leaked—wrote more colloquially, "Straight up gangster. And that's how business should be."

During BlackBerry's Dec. 20 earnings call, for its fiscal 2014 third quarter, Chen came across as extremely likeable and capable, and despite the announcement of a $4.4 billion loss, BlackBerry shares gained 16 percent before the market closed that day.

Critically, even BlackBerry's primary investor, Fairfax Financial Holdings, has expressed its growing confidence in the brand. BlackBerry announced Jan. 8 that Fairfax, through its subsidiaries, is making an additional $250 million investment in the company, buying convertible debt.

On Nov. 13, Fairfax purchased $1 billion of convertible debt.

"I believe in the value of this brand and am confident we will rebuild for the benefit of all of our constituencies," Chen said in a Nov. 13 statement, announcing the initial backing.

During interviews at CES, Chen added details to broader strategy messages that have come from the company in recent weeks.