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So where did RIM go so wrong?
In addition to playing in a particularly competitive market, a general lack of innovation and an app ecosystem that's just too small top the list of RIM missteps. But RIM investors and former employees, who have watched the company's massive shift in the marketplace from the inside out, have pointed to a rigid governance model, blatant disregard for the potential impact of the iPhone and downright stubbornness as the underlying reasons for RIM's demise.
THE EARLY DAYS
Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail described Lazaridis in a 2002 profile as "Canada's biggest brain in a business suit." A longtime lover of science and engineering (he was the type of kid always tinkering with electronics in his parents' Waterloo basement), Lazaridis went to the University of Waterloo to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. He dropped out just one month shy of graduation to accept a $600,000 contract with General Motors.
That money, along with a loan from his parents, was used to build RIM, which Lazaridis officially founded in 1984. Eight years later, he met Jim Balsillie, a Harvard MBA with the potential to perfectly round out RIM's management team: Lazaridis would provide the technical insight and engineering know-how to fuel the BlackBerry's development, while Balsillie (a man that The Globe and Mail would later describe as "known widely for his drive, his temper, his passion,") would handle the financial side of things.
Following through with this model, Lazaridis appointed Balsillie as his co-CEO and chairman of the board in 1997, when the company went public. Lazaridis would serve as the other co-CEO, and as president.
The Globe and Mail went on to describe RIM's "unusual corporate structure," centered on the closeness of Lazaridis and Balsillie. The two CEOs once shared an office. They developed a secret "code" of shoulder shrugs and twitches to communicate with each other discreetly during meetings. They even joked that the BlackBerry was invented solely as a means to chat with one another after business hours, without their wives finding out.
And so it went. Lazaridis and Balsillie, a seemingly perfect fit, were at the helm of RIM for what would turn out to be an almost 20-year span before a new CEO or chairman stepped in.
AN 'UNUSUAL' CORPORATE STRUCTURE
The Globe and Mail wasn't alone in viewing RIM's corporate structure -- and especially the tight-knit relationship between Lazaridis and Balsillie in their roles as co-CEOs -- as unusual.
Bill Crittendon, professor of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern University, referred to RIM's governance structure as "founder centrality," a management model in which all decision-making is confined to the hands of a company's original founders.
"We have two very powerful founders and they created a centrality around themselves, where everything in the organization revolved around these two individuals," Crittendon told CRN. "Because they were both co-chairs and co-CEOs, everything was falling through them."
The model creates ambiguity and opens the door for tasks and responsibilities to fall through the cracks, Crittendon said.
"In general, the idea of having co-chairs and co-CEOs is not considered good governance at all," he concluded.
CRN contacted RIM multiple times for comment, but the company did not provide one as of press time. Attempts to contact Balsillie through The Center For International Governance Innovation, the governance think tank he founded and chairs, were unsuccessful.
The founder centrality model did have fans, at least within RIM.