President and co-CEO
Research in Motion Ltd.
¢ Starts RIM in 1984 with Douglas Fregin while still a student at the University of Waterloo; wins a $500,000 contract from General Motors
¢ RIM hires Jim Balsillie as co-CEO in 1992
¢ The Inter@ctive Pager is launched in 1996
¢ RIM lists on the toronto stock exchange in 1997
¢ In 1999, the BlackBerry wireless e-mail solution is launched
¢ Wins Academy Award in 1999 for developing DigiSync bar-coding system for film
¢ Made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006
¢ As of 2009, has donated $250 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing
Ask the legends
In developing your very successful business model, which industries or companies were role models?
Jeff Lem, President
qdata, Markham, Ont.
Our business model evolved based on our specific opportunity and circumstances. By the time we launched BlackBerry in 1999, we were already a successful and growing public company. We originally launched BlackBerry as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, which means we bought airtime in bulk from a network operator and resold the airtime in small portions and as part of an end-to-end solution, together with our devices, software and service. We also took on responsibility for the sales, marketing and support functions with respect to the end customer, which was a major undertaking at the time, given that we previously had been principally an OEM supplier. We did all of this out of necessity, in order to prove the commercial viability of wireless e-mail in general and the BlackBerry solution in particular. Once we established credibility for the business and the brand, we inverted the distribution model and started selling through carriers, and that allowed us to capitalize on the sizable growth opportunity quickly, economically and globally.
Obviously the co-CEO model is working for you and Jim. What’s the rationale for this relationship?
Andrew Szonyi, President
Canadian Resource Management Ltd., Toronto
I asked Jim to join RIM in 1992 because I needed a partner with finance experience. The decision to go with a co-CEO structure is still based on a trust of each other’s strengths and an appreciation for the complexity of running a fast-growing, global company in regulated environments. The ability to succeed both individually and collaboratively is also a key characteristic that we have always looked for when hiring employees throughout the company.
Jim Balsillie has said that the two of you still make all your key decisions together based on gut feeling. Is this true? If so, how have you managed, in such a large company, to stay close enough to the details to make calls based on gut feeling?|
Maggie Leithead, President & CEO
I would be careful not to oversimplify the point, but I do think it is very important to pay attention to your instinct. We have been intensely studying this market for a long time. Thousands of hours have been spent listening to customers, working with partners, talking and debating with colleagues, analyzing information, evaluating alternatives and contingencies, watching what has worked and what has failed. All that activity leads to some pretty good gut instincts, and it would be foolish to ignore them, particularly in situations that don’t allow for absolute certainty in any case. And at the same time, we also know when and where to trust the informed opinions and instincts of other people on the team.
What are the most important things to consider when planning an expansion into the U.S.?
Michael Assad, CEO
Edentity Web Systems Inc., Toronto
Expansion strategies can require a significant investment of time and resources, so it is important to make sure you really understand the market in terms of customers, competitors, regulatory requirements and other local conditions. It can also be very helpful to first establish a key partner or customer before investing in broader strategies. Make it your mission to make them successful, and then build on that momentum.
How did you make the difficult transformation from engineer to chief executive/business manager?
I started RIM while I was still a student in 1984, so I have needed to be both an engineer and a business manager since the beginning. The bigger difference came from managing a larger and larger company. Of course, the transition from a startup to a company with morethan 12,000 employees didn’t happen overnight, so I had time to adjust. We knew early on that the opportunity for BlackBerry was big, and although we couldn’t predict the slope of the growth curve, we did make a conscious decision to prepare the company for scale. We implemented SAP and ISO 9001 company-wide relatively early in order to discipline the company for growth. That was a difficult management challenge in earlier years because it required a leap of faith, and we didn’t have unlimited budgets. But we hired the right people and we ingrained that growth discipline into the culture of the organization.
How do you motivate the people around you to share and follow your vision?
Sonia Di Maulo, Performance Improvement Consultant
Focus and vision are both easy concepts to salute in a corporate mission statement, but it takes conscious and continual effort to ensure they remain part of the culture as a company grows. And there is nothing like success to attract opportunities for distraction within your business. There is no single silver bullet to maintaining focus within the organization. But one of the things we do at RIM is hold large interdepartmental meetings, aptly called Vision Meetings, in which we talk about key priorities and customer feedback, and discuss the importance of different initiatives within the context of the overall strategy. Communication within and among the teams is key. We hire a lot of brilliant, motivated people, and they can accomplish miracles within their own domain if they understand where they fit in the bigger picture.
What role does gratitude play in your life?
I am grateful every day of my life, both personally and professionally. I think we all have to be grateful for the opportunities afforded in this country and at this time in history. I also think that gratitude and ambition are two important and complementary aspects of a healthy approach to business and life. At RIM, we have so much to be grateful for, in terms of our customers, partners, colleagues and the fact that we get to work in one of the most exciting tech sectors in the world. I also feel fortunate to have been in a position to give back and start two Canadian institutes that have flourished into world-class research hubs — the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing.