Words from a World Changer – an interview with Jim Balsillie

Filming just wrapped on a new feature-length production about Canada’s iconic
Blackberry device, but there’s no need to wait until the movie’s release for behind-the-
scenes commentary on leadership from the former Chair and co-CEO of Research in
Motion (RIM). Jim Balsillie shares his thoughts on using technology as a force for good
during an ITWC podcast called Leadership in the Digital Enterprise.

“I feel very fortunate for the life I live, and the country I grew up in,” said Balsillie,
speaking with podcast host Jim Love, CIO of ITWC. “In this rapidly changing world, I’m happy to work with fellow travelers to leave the campsite in better shape than we found it.”

A Harvard Business School graduate and philanthropist who changed the world with the
invention of the Smart Phone, Balsillie helped put Waterloo, Ontario on the map as a
world class center for technology and innovation. Now in the second phase of an
illustrious career, he is leading a drive to ensure Canada’s future prosperity in the digital economy.

Lessons Learned at RIM

Asked by Love to share some of the lessons learned while growing RIM from an idea to
a business worth 20 billion globally, Balsillie said he learned, firsthand, the role of
marketplace frameworks in shaping how a country and a company perform in a digital
world. “I also learned that the answer often lies in the process, and that you don’t have to have the answer,” he added. “It’s really about information sharing, creating good teams, front footed navigation, confidence in believing in yourself, and very, very good product management – which is a non-trivial skill in the technology world.”

After engaging with numerous CIO strategy organizations worldwide, yet never coming
across one in Canada, Balsillie thought it was overdue for Canada to be more
progressive in growing its digital economy. Together with Alex Benay, former CIO for
the Government of Canada, he launched the CIO Strategy Council, a group of CIOs
from companies, federal and provincial governments, municipalities, not for profits, and
many other sectors, who work together to prioritize Canada’s digital presence.

A National Imperative

Part of the Council’s mission is to develop national standards that support Canada’s
information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem and give Canadian
organizations a competitive edge in a data-driven economy.“Industrialization in Canada
wouldn’t have been possible without standards, but as we move to a knowledge based, economy, ideas also get translated into intellectual property that is commercialized
through insertion into standards and specifications that are determined by well respected, accredited organizations,” said Balsillie. “Canada really has an imperative to update its approaches, both for the development of, and the strategic application of consensus based standards, so that we quite frankly protect and advance the things we value.”

The Essential Role of the CIO

Reflecting on future challenges, Balsillie noted the importance of the digital realm, and
by extension, digital leaders. “What I’ve tried to advocate is that the role of the digital executive is one of the most, if not the most important in the C-suite and into the
boardroom,” he said. “If you don’t up your game on this, you risk social fabric, you risk economic prosperity, you risk national security. And the converse of that, if you’re front footed, you can advance those. So, these are the challenges and the opportunities for digital executives in Canada, but also for the organization.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau
Suzanne Robicheau is a communications specialist based in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where working remotely continues to fuel her passion for new mobile technologies -- especially on snowy days.

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