NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Tuesday I attended a Bloomberg summit in Toronto with many different commentators on the Canadian economy.
In the final session of the day, Research In Motion (BBRY) founder Mike Lazaridis spoke one-on-one with Hugo Miller of Bloomberg News.
Lazaridis is now completely disconnected from RIM, which now operates as BlackBerry, other than being a shareholder. He quit the board a few weeks ago.
I've been very critical of Lazaridis and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie over the last few years. I was short the stock from about $70 down to $22 a few years ago.I criticized the company for allowing its 50%-plus market share in smartphones to dwindle away because it failed to respond quickly to the threat posed by the introduction Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in 2007. I think obviously Lazaridis and Balsillie played a role in this error. Balsillie led the sales organization, and Lazaridis was in charge of the technical side of the house. Of the two, Lazaridis was more respected internally by employees, however. Whenever you have a stock stumble as badly as BlackBerry has in the past few years, there is a pile-on effect of criticism from outside critics. Obviously, Lazaridis has to accept a lot of that.
However, the recent criticism masks his incredible accomplishments over his career. I really enjoyed listening to him speak about his career in general, and it helped to put his accomplishments in context. Lazaridis started Research In Motion in the early 1980s while he was finishing his undergraduate education. He did so in Waterloo, Ontario -- about as far from the tech world as you can imagine. Did he get savvy blue-chip venture capitalists to back him? No. Together with a buddy, he started the company with a loan of $15,000 from his parents, which was matched from the Ontario provincial government.
In fact, venture capitalists wouldn't even talk to him about his company for 10 years. (It was at that time that Lazaridis met Balsillie, who took a mortgage out on his house to invest in RIM and join the company in management.)
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