Balsillie’s private guide to good business

RIM’s Jim Balsillie wasn’t the most polished of speaker I’ve seen. He’s a bit stream of consciousness, a tad distracted. But when Canada’s most successful co-CEO takes the stage, people listen.

So it was at the Tech Exec ’07 dinner in Waterloo, billed as “an exclusive event for CEOs and tech leaders from across Canada,” since the executive committee of ITAC was also in attendance, including the most senior poobahs of powerhouses like Intel, Cisco, HP, Nortel, SAP, Softchoice and others. (The event was organized by Communitech, Waterloo’s hyper-active and hyperactive regional technology association. Check out their list of events.)

Balsillie took the stage and, including a Q&A session, pontificated on everything from RIM’s opportunities in China to his business philosophy on competition to why he won’t backcheck in charity hockey games. The high points:

Distractions are the bane of business. Businesses, and individuals, get too caught up on the what ifs and “scenario-izing” about what could happen, instead of focusing on and executing the plan and strategy at hand. Live and work in the moment and the future will take care of itself.

95 per cent of good business boils down to having the best information, and making decisions based on that information. Information is also key to selling. Customers are more receptive when you provide them all the information necessary to make their decision.

On that note, Balsillie is flabbergasted at the lack of diligence or even “smarts” that major companies and executives employ. He noted one major global carrier that is excited about mobile VoIP, yet began scratching their heads when he probed them on their business model. Balsillie said the data requirements for VoIP are so high, that while carriers believe they can charge more for VoIP service, it wouldn’t make up for the bandwidth performance slowdowns or network upgrades the carriers would be required to undertake. In his simplified form, he likened it to the carriers traditionally charging $1 per car for the Highway 407 toll road, but then realizing they could charge some cars $2. Only problem is that those new cars are six lanes wide and essentially eliminate five other cars that would have collectively paid $5.  “No one bothers to do the math. It’s unbelievable.”

China is a greenfield with tons of opportunities and RIM is actively engaged in the market. The lack of a true free market and Chinese government involvement is a manageable nuance he said. RIM’s advantage is its early foothold in China through its existing North American customer base. North America companies are deploying Blackberries in their China operations, so the demand is already there. That install base also provides a working beta test before RIM starts pushing outward.

And yes, he’s still got his eye on a couple of NHL teams. And no, he won’t say who they are. (RIM releases its latest financial results later today.)

All told, very entertaining. Many thanks to Lynda Leonard, senior VP of communications at ITAC, for the invite to the dinner.


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