Jim Clemmer: A Critical Leadership Crossroads for One Tech Company

These “dog days of summer” are hot and tense times here in our community of Waterloo Region for our biggest local employer and benefactor, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM). The company is a major start up success story coming out of the University of Waterloo’s computer science program during the 1980s.

RIM/Blackberry is at a Critical Leadership Crossroad - Jim ClemmerRIM created its industry and through strong market leadership built a world class brand. A strong feature is such high network security that President Obama was allowed to keep using his Blackberry for government business after his election in 2008. The company has become the inspiration and one of the main pillars locally for Communitech “a network of more than 600 companies and organizations that believe in building a strong tech cluster in Waterloo Region.” Company founders and co-CEOs, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have given hundreds of millions of dollars to create The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Institute for Quantum Computing, Institute for International Governance, as well as supporting the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College, hospitals, and community groups.

I’ve been a raving fan and Blackberry user for many years. I just purchased the PlayBook and love it. The WIFI web browser is incredibly fast and very easy to use. Integration with the Torch (by far my favorite Blackberry so far) for e-mail, contacts, tasks and web browsing is excellent. Screen resolution is outstanding. Video is amazing. It seamlessly runs multiple programs at once. The size was a pleasant surprise since it fits nicely in my current wallet/portfolio. Once the 300,000 applications (apps) are available through Google’s Android system for the PlayBook, it will be even more useful. I am also eagerly awaiting Amazon’s release of the Kindle for PlayBook so I can use it to read the e-books that I am currently reading on my Kindle for PC and Blackberry Torch.

RIM has been losing market share in the smart phone market to Apple and sellers of Google’s Android system. Their stock price has dropped off a cliff this year. There’s been a barrage of criticism and handwringing among some Canadians that RIM may go the way of Nortel Networks and slip from its dominant position to irrelevance and oblivion (Nortel is now bankrupt.)

A bad sign coming from RIM was Jim Balsillie’s recent discussion of a few hundred layoffs from their workforce of over 15,000 people. There is so much evidence that the “savings” gained by layoffs are overwhelmed by the very negative energy and lack of leadership signals it sends. See Wise Managers Treat Layoffs as a Last Resort for some of this earlier research. “Dumbsizing” doesn’t work and isn’t leadership.

But much of the anguish and fear for RIM is over the top and premature. The company is at a critical leadership crossroad. As with many fast growing startups, their pioneering product development and marketing power made them a major international success. Now Lazaridis and Ballsillie face the critical entrepreneurial growth test; can they shift from building the business to building an executive team that builds the business?

 

RIM’s primary competitor, Apple, is at the same crossroad. Their stock price has also been floundering as investors fret about whether Steve Jobs’ ongoing health problems will force him to leave his post as chief product and marketing genius. An in-depth investigative analysis of Apple’s culture by Fortune magazine earlier this year produced a very telling organization chart on the key senior executive levels of the company illustrated by concentric rings rippling out from Steve Jobs at the centre.

 

Researcher and author, Jim Collins (author of Built to Last and Good to Great), says “Whether you prevail or fail depends on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.” The single biggest factor that separates flash-in-the-pan successes from enduringly successful organizations is their culture. Culture is the critical X factor that boosts or blocks strategy, change, and improvement initiatives. And that culture ripples out from the founders and executive team.

Next week (July 12) is a critical board meeting for RIM as they decide key issues on structure and strategy. For our community and the glimpse I am getting of RIM’s possible future products with its new QNX operating system running the PlayBook, I am strongly cheering for the company. An adage that’s becoming a truism teaches, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Let’s hope they choose the leadership and culture road that leads upward to greater success!

For over 30 years, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and management team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe moving his audiences from inspiration to application. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs. His website is www.JimClemmer.com.

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