Business

Jim Balsille – The Man Behind Blackberry Mobiles

Jim Balsille

If you’re a millennial, you must know what the Blackberry era was- the hype was real, and every young adult would dream of owning a Blackberry. 

Today, we’re going to talk about the brilliant mind behind Blackberry- Jim Balsille. Jim is a Canadian businessman, chartered accountant, and philanthropist, and is popularly known as the former CEO of the company Research In Motion (BlackBerry). During its peak time and popularity, the company made more than $20 billion in sales annually and was known to be the most popular mobile brand back then.

So, what happened to Jim Balsille and Blackberry?

Well, after the era of Blackberry ended after the case of stock manipulation, Jim Balsillie stepped down from RIM’s board of directors. He and Mike Lazaridis had to finalize a settlement with the OSC and pay the penalties for the backdating. However, Balsillie didn’t serve jail time for this case.

In this article, we’ll be walking you through all about Jim Balsille, the story of Blackberry, and how it came to an end. Keep reading! 

Early Life

Jim Balisillie was born on February 3rd, 1961 in Seaforth, Ontario to Raymond Balsillie, an electronics technician and mother, Laurel Balsillie. He moved to Peterborough when he was five and was brought up there. He completed his Bachelor of Commerce in 1984 from Trinity College and the University of Toronto. Jim then completed his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1989. 

He always had a business acumen and started selling Christmas cards door to door from the age of 7. During his teenage years, he used to sell newspapers door to door and also helped with a painting operation. He also started working at ski hill at a very young age to help with maintenance services. This explains how hardworking he was from a very young age! 

Personal Life

Jim Balisillie got married to his wife, Heidi, in 1989 in Hamilton, Ontario, and has two children. The family lived in Waterloo. The couple got separated in 2011. Even though the family has been highly successful, they have always believed in living a modest life. In fact, he was one of the world’s billionaires in 2011. 

He also works as the Honorary Captain of HMCS Star in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Apart from building the popular mobile brand, Blackberry, he is also the founder of various nonprofit organizations, such as the Arctic Research Foundation, which found one of the lost Franklin ships in 2016. He is also the founder of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Apart from building businesses and nonprofit organizations, he is also an avid hockey fan and tried to purchase a hockey team as well. 

Career Trajectory

Early Career

After completing graduation and his chartered accountant degree, Jim joined Ernst & Young in Toronto for a brief period, before continuing his education at Harvard University. He then moved back to Canada and joined Sutherland-Schultz, in the capacity of an executive vice president. 

The Blackberry Era

Research in Motion, a company started by Mike Lazarodis and Douglas Fregin in 1984 laid the foundation for the Blackberry smartphone. During its course, the RIM was in need of cash as the cash flow was slow. Balsillie’s business acumen worked well along with Lazaridis’s technical expertise, and that took the company to another level and helped it expand from a very small company. Jim Balsillie was majorly responsible for strategy, business development, and finance, and gained a lot of confidence after successfully scaling up the business to new heights.

RIM then launched Blackberry in 1999, and Balsillie’s marketing efforts took it to another level. To start its promotions, it gave out mobile phones for free at tech conferences targeting “early adopters.” Eventually, they also signed supply agreements with BellSouth Wireless, IBM, American Mobile, and Rogers Cantel.

Did you know? Blackberry had 85 million users worldwide in 2011, however, the membership declined after Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android entered the market and changed the game!

Backdating Stock Options

Jim Balsille stepped down as the chairman of RIM on 5th March 2007, but still held the position of co-CEO, after RIM received a US$250-million accounting charge for the backdating stock option grants to its high-level employees.

But what are the options for backdating?

This is a process of dating the stock to an older time when the price was lower, to get higher profits. As a result of this, Balsillie and his partner, Mike Lazaridis both paid $5 million for the months-long internal investigation into the option grants. They took complete responsibility for the situation. RIM also agreed to pay a fine of $ 77 million to close the matter with the Ontario Securities Commission. The co-founders, Balsillie and Lazaridis along with Dennis Kavelman, the CFO, paid most of the fine. They were also charged by the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission for committing the same offense.

Blackberry was one of the most valuable companies in Canada until 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone, a touchscreen device with a media player and camera, which took the market by a hit. Despite this, Blackberry tried unique marketing tactics and continued to grow hitting nearly US$20 billion in sales in 2011. Eventually, the company missed out on a lot of industry trends, and the competitors took the first movers advantage over it, such as amplifying camera quality, touchscreen features, and much more. By 2011, RIM’s aka Blackberry’s market share was disrupted, and the company’s stock prices fell by nearly 75%, leading to the stakeholders leaving the company.

On 22 January 2012, Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEOs and were replaced by Thorsten Heins. Both Balsillie and Lazaridis were still on the board of directors, however, Balsillie resigned eventually on 29 March 2012 and sold all his shares in early 2013.

What are the BlackBerry founders doing as of today?

Jim Balsille, the brilliant mind behind BlackBerry still uses his company for funding and supporting researchers in the industry. 

As of 2023, BlackBerry phones are officially defunct and don’t function anymore. Blackberry’s CEO John Chen confirmed that the two-decade-old infrastructure, operating system, software, and services of the BlackBerry, was being officially decommissioned.

Awards

1. 2006

* Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year, Bennett Jones 

* International Business Executive of the Year, Canadian Chamber of Commerce 

2. 2008

* Outstanding Business Leader Award, Wilfrid Laurier University

3. 2009

* International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, Associates of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba

* Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Contribution, GSM Association Global Mobile Awards

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