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Streetwise Long-time Lazaridis ally Dan Dodge resigns from BlackBerry’s QNX

File photo of Dan Dodge of QNX Software Systems.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

The last senior BlackBerry Ltd. executive with close ties to company co-founder Mike Lazaridis is leaving the company.

Dan Dodge, president of BlackBerry's Ottawa-based QNX Software Systems business and a member of CEO John Chen's executive team, told The Globe and Mail he submitted his resignation in August, and will retire at the end of the year.

"My decision to leave was my own," he said. "I threw my own party, invited everybody from QNX that I've known over the last 35 years and we had a grand time." Mr. Dodge will be succeeded by John Wall, his vice-president of engineering.

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Mr. Lazaridis had high hopes for QNX when BlackBerry, then known as Research In Motion, bought the company in 2010. Like Mr. Lazaridis, Mr. Dodge had taken a project developed during his days as a University of Waterloo student and built a business around it. He and QNX co-founder Gordon Bell made their names as pioneers in embedded systems technology. QNX's software, known as a "micro-kernel," was the building block at the base of some of the world's most important technology, including air traffic control systems, nuclear power plants and the routers that manage traffic over the Internet. Machines that ran on the QNX technology were so dependable they would run non-stop without a software malfunction for years. A customer once told Fortune Magazine the only way to stop the software from working was to shoot a bullet through the machine.

Mr. Dodge sold his company to stereo maker Harman International Industries in 2004 and stayed on, but five years later he was pining for a new owner to take his company off the hands of its cash-strapped parent. At the time, BlackBerry was struggling to redefine itself in the handset business after Apple's introduction of the iPhone created a popular touchscreen alternative to BlackBerry's keyboard-based smartphone. After RIM's unsuccessful attempts to launch its own touchscreen products based on its legacy operating system, Mr. Lazaridis was convinced that Mr. Dodge and QNX could develop a transformational new software platform that would put the company back into the lead of the smartphone race. RIM paid $200-million for the company in 2010.

But QNX's first project, building RIM's PlayBook tablet, proved a flop, after the device was late to market, lacked native BlackBerry e-mail and featured only a fraction of the apps of Apple's iPad. Meanwhile, the project to build the new BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system was beset by delays, and when new devices based on the QNX-designed system came out in early 2013 – a year after Mr. Lazaridis and co-CEO Jim Balsillie relinquished their management positions – the company's market share had declined markedly and many users found the new system alienating. The new devices sold poorly and the company's revenue continued to fall steeply.

More recently, Mr. Chen has been championing QNX software, which is used to power on-board digital entertainment systems in cars, as the basis of its shift into the burgeoning "Internet of things" space. But while Mr. Dodge had grown close to Mr. Lazaridis – who like him lived and breathed science – and become a trusted adviser and sounding board on technology decisions, sources say Mr. Dodge found himself more distanced from Mr. Chen. Since August 2014, Mr. Dodge had reported to a new president, Sandeep Chennakeshu, appointed to oversee QNX and a range of other small operations as part of the company's technology solutions business unit.

"I miss Mike Lazaridis greatly," Mr. Dodge said. "I really respected that man. He may have missed a few things or may not have turned when he should have at the appropriate point here or there, but the man was brilliant, the man was fair, he brought tremendous leadership to what was effectively a technical company, and he also made decisions based on his heart at times, which I think is tremendously motivating for the staff. So I miss him a great deal. It's definitely different" now, he said.

In a statement, the company said "we are grateful for Dan Dodge's contributions to BlackBerry and his work building a startup to an undisputed leader in embedded software....We're appreciative of Dan's 35 years of dedication to QNX and wish him all the best in his retirement."

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