Mr. Lazaridis in particular was obsessed with his devices being efficient in their use of wireless networks, while more powerful smartphones coming on the market gobbled up huge chunks of bandwidth.
“People were saying we can’t make powerful phones like Apple. Yes, we can, but we couldn’t believe consumers would put up with that kind of battery inefficiency and that kind of network inefficiency.”
Still, he has little patience with calls to be more like Apple. He points out that Apple dismissed its own co-founder Steve Jobs in the mid-1980s in favour of an outside marketing specialist, only to bring Mr. Jobs back, laying the foundation for its current exalted status.
“They ask ‘Why can’t you be more like Apple?’ So we should go bankrupt and fire our founders and bring in a moron? That’s what we should do?” Mr. Martin says.
He is also dismissive of analysts who would scrap RIM’s integrated business model, getting out of hardware and licensing its software. That was the tack taken by successors to Apple’s Mr. Jobs, but when he returned to the fold, he reinstated the integrated platform.
“So that is what the geniuses who have all these clever thoughts about business models are saying – and a big piece of me just laughs: Have you no memory? Do you not even think?”
Before joining U of T, Mr. Martin, a Harvard MBA, spent 13 years as a management consultant. He still advises select companies, including long-time client Procter & Gamble Co. When his Rotman term ends in two years, he would consider staying on as a senior scholar or running a foundation, while continuing to write books and advise companies.
But RIM is top of mind now, and he insists the board did not present an ultimatum to the co-CEOs to resign – they made the decision on their own over the Christmas break.
But surely the slumping share price, despite a robust return on equity, advanced that decision? “You can think what you want to think. I think we are trying to manage the company as well as possible – and there’s a whole lot of reasons to take this next step.”
The product pipeline looked strong, a qualified successor was ready to take over and the two builders were tired of the “brutal” pace, he maintains. Mr. Balsillie told him the day after he resigned, he had his first good night’s sleep in about 20 years.
The tricky aspect, he says, was the former bosses deciding what they wanted to do. They decided to stay on as directors, while former banker Barbara Stymiest replaced them as board chair. Their continuing presence has raised concerns that Mr. Heins may not chart an independent course.
If Mr. Heins had wanted the two off the board, they might have left, but that was not the new CEO’s wish, Mr. Martin says. “And people just don’t understand the depth of understanding these guys have of their business, the connections, whatever.” Mr. Lazaridis, he says, “is a genius – so having him off the board would be a good idea?”
The two former CEOs are about more than RIM. Mr. Balsillie founded a global policy institute and pursued hockey teams; Mr. Lazaridis built a physics research hothouse. Had they become distracted when the company needed their full attention?
“I just don’t buy that,” says Mr. Martin, arguing that the outside interests energized the two. “We’re all human beings – they’re not automatons.”
Mr. Martin is himself the master multi-tasker, who juggles consulting, writing, tennis and running Canada’s top-ranked business school. He could be talking about himself when he says of Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis: “They need their passions. I think it makes them better.”
Born Aug. 4, 1956 in Wallenstein, Ont.
Father Lloyd built a feed and seed business, now operated by his brother Rick.
Bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University; MBA, Harvard Business School.
Married for the second time.
Last year, placed 6th on the Thinkers50 list, a biannual ranking of the most influential global business thinkers.
Thirteen years with the Monitor Group, a consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass. Founded Monitor’s Canadian office and its educational arm.
In 1998, became dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. His final term as dean will end in June, 2014.
Tennis: Early to bed, he plays at 5:45 most mornings. On other days, he works out.
Writing: Four solo books and two collaborations; latest is Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL. Next out: 10-year retrospective on his Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity; strategy book to be co-written with former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley.
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