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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Mike Lazaridis

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Mike Lazaridis Research in Motion

because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers

Mike Lazaridis, whose company launched the BlackBerry in 1998, developed his philosophy of innovation as an intern at Ontario's Control Data in the early 1980s. He often saw the engineers butt heads with the marketing department. The former felt their cutting-edge ideas for products were squandered; the latter felt those new products needed to be simplified to attract customers. No doubt that tension exists to some degree at every tech company, but it was so pervasive at Control Data that most of the engineering staff eventually quit for the greener pastures of California's Silicon Valley.

The experience left a lasting impression on Lazaridis, now 44. "The kiss of death is when you allow marketing to dumb down innovations," he says. Simplifying a product hardly encourages customers to purchase newer models, he adds. Under his guidance, Research In Motion (RIM) has nurtured engineers. The result? The BlackBerry, whose subscriber base doubled from one million to two million in the past year.

To be sure, Lazaridis still faces thorny strategic issues. When Palm and others began sizing up the wireless messaging market, for example, RIM was forced to move quickly to license software to phone manufacturers, including Motorola and Nokia, to protect BlackBerry's turf. Then there is the controversial patent-infringement lawsuit brought by a small U.S. company that could cost RIM tens of millions of dollars in royalty fees. In a legal maneuver that is innovative in its own way (although not entirely lovable), RIM is arguing that the patents issued in the U.S. do not apply to RIM because most of its hardware resides in Canada, even though most BlackBerry users are in the U.S.

Undaunted, Lazaridis continues to champion technological advancement. Recently he ponied up $100 million (in Canadian dollars) in his own RIM stock to start a research institute in Ontario. Maybe that will coax some of those grumpy ex-Control Data engineers to return home.

Amy Gunderson

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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