Mike Lazaridis: wireless wonder

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The man behind the Blackberry (photo: textlad on Flickr)

There’s a Bezier-shaped building in Waterloo, Ontario, housing a company that could be making or breaking your business right at this very second, and it’s the fastest growing company in the world.

Until the late 90s, Research In Motion (RIM), the wireless communications development house founded by Mike Lazaridis in 1984, was a privately funded company producing wireless modems, two-way pagers and palmtop email devices. Then, during the first few days of 1999 - from a basal office block over 2000 miles away from the heart of Silicon Valley - RIM launched its 950 Inter@ctive Pager, known universally today by its epithet – the BlackBerry.

The rabid clamour for the BlackBerry, a modern-day object of social and commercial necessity to those under its spell, has hastened its extraordinary evolution. Lazaridis, a product himself of Istanbul’s vibrant Greek quarter, and victim of the Aegean tensions which led to his family’s relocation to Canada, has demonstrated an acute awareness of the BlackBerry’s global potential from day one. The most recent addition to the RIM stable, the BlackBerry Curve, debuted in Ghana, Trinidad, Panama and The Philippines last month, an enviable reach by Microsoft’s standards, let alone RIM’s direct competitors.

Little wonder therefore when news of RIM’s key competitor Palm’s Q1 losses filtered through in September, the smartphone developer and manufacturer of the once ubiquitous Palm Pilot taking a £100m hit in its first fiscal quarter. Palm has struggled to regain its footing since the development of one or two uninspiring products led to a colossal loss of market share. Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone only compounded Palm’s woes, and the BlackBerry’s current status as the smartphone equivalent of a Swiss Army knife has hamstrung Palm even further.

The rabid clamour for the BlackBerry, a modern-day object of social and commercial necessity to those under its spell, has hastened its extraordinary evolution

By comparison, RIM posted a profit of £395m, a £75m rise from the previous quarter. RIM added approximately 3.8 million net new BlackBerry subscriber accounts during the quarter, taking its total subscriber base to nearly 28.5 million.

During the quarter, nearly 8 million Blackberry handsets were sold, and this accounted for 80 percent of RIM’s quarterly revenue. On the subject of RIM’s unprecedented growth, Lazaridis spoke selflessly with Profit magazine of the gratitude he feels for the present shape of the company he started as an integrated school project, and the role gut instinct plays in the RIM decision making process. “At RIM, we have so much to be grateful for, but I also think that gratitude and ambition are two important and complementary aspects of a healthy approach to business and life” he said, before adding, “Thousands of hours have been spent listening to customers, working with partners, talking and debating with colleagues, analysing 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.”


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