Book reviews

This article is from Business in Vancouver, October 12-18, 2010; Issue 1094

BlackBerry: The inside story of Research in Motion

By Rod McQueen

Key Porter, 2010

This month we take another look at the genesis of technical innovation as financial journalist McQueen delves into the history of Research in Motion’s (RIM) founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.

McQueen takes us to see Lazaridis’ childhood science experiments, his two-man company housed in a Waterloo basement, the pre-BlackBerry days of intense experimentation and precarious revenue and the eventual global success of Research in Motion under Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

As a small child, Lazaridis used batteries to light up the engines of his electric train set. He built a Halloween haunted house with automated sensors that turned lights on and created noises. He became someone who learned from experience – both success and failure. A University of Waterloo co-op term taught him that he needed to be in control of the technology he was working on, when the company he was working with pulled the plug on a new, fast mini-computer his team had been assigned to develop. His observation of other technology companies that failed because of inadequate financial management led him to seek out Balsillie as his vice-president of finance and business development. As eventual co-CEOs, the two men brought complementary skills to their roles and took on different tasks.

What’s fascinating about the story is the way in which the products RIM worked on all contributed to the company’s success in building the BlackBerry. The early Budgie was first-generation digital signage, conceived for use at grocery store checkouts to advertise products. It gave the young developers experience in using cathode ray tubes, building circuit boards and adding ROM and RAM to create a new point-of-sale display terminal. The lengthy relationship with Rogers’ Mobitex gave RIM experience in developing applications for a cellular network and creating an application programming interface to link hardware and software.

Lazaridis’ early and unshakeable knowledge that a product that could receive and send email on a pocket-sized wireless device would be a runaway global success is another fascinating glimpse into the mind of a successful futurist and technical innovator.

McQueen doesn’t look at length at the stock option issues of 2006, saying these were more prevalent then than now among North American companies. However, the highly publicized patent fight with NTP Inc. is explored in detail.

Lately, RIM has been fighting Apple and Google for market share. Google’s Android recently overtook both the iPhone and the BlackBerry in the United States. However, RIM’s latest financial results, released in mid-September, refute speculation about the company’s long-term health. Revenue rose 31% during the past quarter, while earnings per share rose 76% as the worldwide recession continued to pound corporate revenue elsewhere. There are now more than 50 million BlackBerry users, up 56% year over year. RIM’s share of the global smartphone market is now second only to Nokia. •

Jan Wallace is head of the David Lam Management Research Library at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

Everything I Know about Marketing I Learned from Google

By Aaron Goldman

McGraw-Hill, 2010

In Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google, we see how Google used the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and the wisdom of crowds, and tested and tracked customer responses and data to shape its message and move its name from a noun to a verb. Goldman, not satisfied with laying out 20 lessons from Google’s marketing success, gives you the tools to use these lessons and build your brand. In a world where everyone is searching for information, learning from the king of all providers is a good thing.

Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links

By Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood

McClelland & Stewart, 2010

Koch and Lockwood draw from sociology, physics and math to illustrate the impact of networks on our lives. In Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links, the authors plumb their own experience to illustrate the importance of networking in today’s business environment. Breaking these networks into three categories – strong relationships, weak relationships and hubs – they make the argument that it is often what we would call “the weakest link” that provides the best opportunities for success. Nobody wants to hire his or her brother-in-law, but everyone hopes he finds a good job. This is where acquaintances can be more useful than friends. •

Treena Chambers is the marketing technology co-ordinator at UBC Bookstore.

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