Jim Balsillie is no stranger to controversy in both the business and sports arenas, with the latest chapter in the wealthy Canadian's career seeing him leave Research In Motion Ltd., the company he co-founded and helped build into one of Canada's top technology firms.
Balsillie resigned from the company's board of directors on March 29. The announcement was made at the same time as a report of weaker-than-expected sales and a fourth-quarter loss of $125 million (compared with a profit of $934 million the previous year), and the departure of RIM's chief technology and chief operating officers.
Ballsillie's decision to leave the company came just weeks after he and Mike Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEOs of struggling RIM on Jan. 23, 2012.
Thorsten Heins, who replaced Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis as CEO in January, said "significant change" was needed at the company.
Here are some highlights in the life of Balsillie:
- Date of birth: Feb. 3, 1961.
- Hometown: Seaforth, Ont., and raised in Peterborough. Now resides in Waterloo.
- Education: Graduated from Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School, received a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1989. Elected a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario in 2003. Has also received an honorary doctor of laws from Wilfrid Laurier University (2003) and Dalhousie University (2006).
- Personal life: Married with two children.
- Business background: Started his business careers as a chartered accountant with Clarkson Gordon (now Ernst & Young) after graduating from U of T. After completing his MBA, became executive vice-president and chief financial officer of technology with Sutherland-Schultz, a technology company in Kitchener, Ont. In 1992, Balsillie and Lazaridis founded Research In Motion, which revolutionized the communications industry with the development of the BlackBerry. RIM went from a small company to an international corporation worth more than $68 billion at the end of 2007. Balsillie stepped down as chairman of RIM, retaining his positions as co-CEO and director, when the company announced it would separate the roles of chairman and CEO after a $250-million earnings restatement relating to mistakes in how it granted stock options. On Jan. 22, 2012, Balsillie and Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEOs of RIM, but remained on the company's board. Balsillie resigned from the board a few weeks later, on March 29.
- Sports background: A lover of sports since childhood, including playing hockey and golf and competing in long-course triathlons. Since 2006, has made three failed attempts at buying NHL teams — Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes — with the intention of moving them to Hamilton. His failed bid at purchasing the Coyotes resulted in several court hearings that Balsillie eventually lost in September 2009.
- Compensation: Balsillie earned $1.2 million at RIM in 2011, with total compensation of $5.1 million, but in late 2011, he and Lazaridis reduced their salaries to a token $1 each. His net worth was $1.8 billion as of March 2011, when he was listed No. 692 on the Forbes list of international billionaires and No. 19 in Canada, but RIM's tumbling stock value knocked him off the March 2012 list.
- Philanthropic efforts: Balsillie and his wife, Heidi, provided an endowment in 2009 to help establish the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-profit, non-partisan international affairs research institute based in the former Seagram Museum in Waterloo. They are also patrons of the Grand River Hospital, and support RIM Park in Waterloo, the Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images in Peterborough and the Waterloo Regional Children's Museum. Balsillie is also a founding donor of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and helped fund the Institute for Quantum Computing.
- "You realize how huge a deal we are around the world? I hope you guys realize. I mean, I met three heads of state last week, 12 carrier CEOs. We are at 50 per cent odd market share in many of these markets. We're the No. 1 brand in South Africa and No. 1 in the U.K." — Interview with the Financial Post, October 2011.
- "For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that 7-inch tablets will actually be a big portion of the market, and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience." — Blog post, October 2010.
- "It's a bit conceited, but Mike [Lazaridis] believes there isn't a technology issue he can't solve, and I believe there isn't a business issue I can't stick-handle my way through." — Interview with Kitchener-Waterloo Record, May 1993.