From a young age, Balsillie combined his passions for business and athletics. He became an entrepreneur early on, selling greeting cards door to door at the age of 7, holding down several paper routes concurrently as a boy and managing summer camps and student painters as a teenager. While operating these early businesses, he remained active in sports, which he has continued throughout his career, playing hockey and golf and competing in men's long course triathlons.
Jim Balsillie's career has been stellar. After completing his BCom, he became a chartered accountant and joined the firm of Clarkson Gordon (now Ernst & Young). Balsillie left the accounting world in 1987 to earn an MBA at Harvard. Upon completion, he became the executive vice-president and chief financial officer of technology with a small technology firm, Sutherland-Schultz, a technology company in Kitchener, Ont. In 1992 Balsillie joined forces as co-CEO with Mike LAZARIDIS of the Waterloo-based RESEARCH IN MOTION (RIM), the wireless technology firm that revolutionized the communications industry with the development of the BlackBerry.
Balsillie's business sense was the right complement for Lazaridis's technical expertise. Balsillie's drive and business acumen played significant roles in expanding RIM from a small company with roughly 10 employees in 1992 to an international corporation worth in excess of $68 billion at the end of 2007. On 5 March 2007, Jim Balsillie stepped down as chairman of RIM, retaining his positions as co-CEO and director, when the company announced that it would separate the roles of chairman and CEO after a $250 million earnings restatement relating to mistakes in how it granted stock options.
The industry was moving forward, led by APPLE and the iPhone it introduced in 2007. RIM continued to grow, reaching nearly $20 billion in sales during fiscal 2011, but it only reluctantly incorporated new trends, such as a camera or MP3 player in its smartphone. RIM's growth began to slow and new consumers in emerging markets were purchasing lower-end devices. By the end of 2011, close to 60% of RIM's sales came from countries other than Canada, the US and the UK, where iPhones and Android phones had become more popular. Complicating RIM's changing market was a major service disruption in October 2011, the fifth in five years. Despite the announcement of a new line of "superphones" to come in 2012, RIM suffered a drop in its stock prices of nearly 55% in the preceding year. Shareholders called for change, particularly in the company's leadership.
After months of pressure, the executive shakeup was announced publicly on 22 January 2012. Balsillie and Lazaridis were replaced as co-CEOs by chief operating officer Thorsten Heins and their shared role as board chairman was assumed by Barbara Stymiest. Balsillie stayed on as a member of the board of directors until he resigned on 29 March 2012, while Lazaridis assumed the new title of vice-chair of the board and chair of the board's new innovation committee.
Balsillie's NHL Dreams
Balsillie made headlines in 2006 (not for his business expertise, but for his passion for hockey) when he tried to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins but withdrew the offer when the NHL advised him that the league would restrict his control over the team. In 2007 Balsillie again made sports headlines with his attempt to buy the Nashville Predators. Negotiations were stopped by the NHL after Balsillie applied for permission to relocate the team. He tried a third time to bring an NHL team to Hamilton in 2009, when the Phoenix Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The bid was rejected by an Arizona bankruptcy judge.
The success of RIM has allowed Balsillie, with his wife, Heidi, to make invaluable contributions to community and country. In 2001 their endowment established the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-profit, non-partisan international affairs research institute based in the former Seagram Museum in Waterloo. The Balsillies are patrons of the Grand River Hospital, where their gift helped establish a new cancer care centre. They also support RIM Park in Waterloo, the Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images in Peterborough, the Waterloo Regional Children's Museum and the Child Witness Centre in Waterloo. Balsillie is also a founding donor of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Honours and Awards
Jim Balsillie's commitment to his community and his innovation in business leadership have been recognized widely. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Wilfrid Laurier University (2003) and from Dalhousie University (2006). In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (FCA), the highest designation that the institute confers.
Author SASHA YUSUFALI and LAURA NEILSON
Links to Other Sites
Wilfrid Laurier University
The official website for Wilfrid Laurier University located in Waterloo, Ontario.
The website for the mobile telecommunications company BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion), home of the iconic BlackBerry smartphone. Click on the "Company" link at the bottom of the page for current corporate information.
The official website for the City of Waterloo, Ontario. Provides information about civic affairs and local tourist attractions.
Centre for International Governance Innovation
The website for the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Waterloo-based think tank that focuses on global governance issues.
A biography of Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research in Motion. From The Canadian Business Hall of Fame.