Pardon our unrestrained admiration of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, cofounders of Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion Ltd., whose BlackBerry product line is Canada's best-known global brand. These guys lack the complacency of, say, Motorola Inc., which failed to follow up with a hit to replace its faddish Razr cellphone, and instead has been turning out so many new products that even its relatively recent Pearl, a big hit, seems old news. And this while fighting frivolous, yet costly, battles waged by so-called "patent trolls" in the United States and, in Balsillie's case, trying to buy an NHL club and move it to Kitchener-Waterloo or Hamilton. (First there was the persistent Balsillie's failed bid for the Pittsburgh Penguins; and more recently, a controversial bid for the Nashville Predators).
But looking back 50 years from now at the Kitchener-Waterloo region, what will be most remembered of these lads is the $100 million of Lazaridis' money that went toward building his dream of a Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. (Balsillie and another RIM executive, Doug Fregin, each kicked in an additional $10 million.) And Lazaridis' subsequent $50 million in contributions to the quantum physics programs at the University of Waterloo.
Balsillie, another philanthropist with an impulse to launch worthy institutions from scratch, has just donated $33 million to create the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, having already donated $17 million to the creation of the local Centre for International Governance and Innovation. This is an exercise in community building, since both local universities, UW and Wilfrid Laurier University, will be donors and joint administrators of the new school.
The RIM cofounders also are engaged in nation building, since pure science research is not yet one of Canada's greater strengths. And our cherished reputation as goodwill ambassadors abroad is not yet backed by sufficient research and training in international governance and development issues. Balsillie's new international affairs school will be turning out 150 to 200 graduate students a year by 2012, and an undergrad school is under consideration. Something to make you feel better as you rack up those CrackBerry toll charges.