Review: Losing the Signal

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Have you ever considered becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work at a small startup and watch it grow into a multinational corporation?

Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, two veteran business reporters with The Globe and Mail, wrote Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry to answer these and other compelling questions. An interesting look at one of the most spectacular technological successes and upsets in the 21st century, Losing the Signal is the modern business story of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, two Canadian entrepreneurs — and two mismatched CEOs — who built Research in Motion (RIM) up from a small startup into an iconic brand, only to watch it fall from grace and become almost insignificant in today’s competitive technological landscape.

Beginning with the background of the two CEOs, from their early childhood and university days to their agreement on a partnership, the first part of the book focuses on RIM’s ascent to a dominant global player in the wireless communications market, thanks to the company’s clever innovations and sharp-elbowed tactics.

The last half of the book relates RIM’s equally spectacular fall from an influential technology leader to an almost insignificant player in today’s information technology market. The constant struggle for survival is an obvious theme throughout the entire narrative. It is evident even at the beginning when founder Mike Lazaridis, fearing a takeover from Jim Balsilie, offered him a partnership in RIM instead.

The Waterloo company’s perpetual struggle against American competitors and adversaries Apple and Google, the ongoing patent wars, the harsh disciplinary actions from Canadian and American financial regulators following an options backdating scandal, and the demands for accountability from angry and unforgiving investors all make up a critical chapter in the continuing RIM saga.

Throughout the book, McNish and Silcoff provide an extraordinary glimpse into RIM’s corporate culture, including its dysfunctional organizational structure and the growing animosity between the two CEOs — in the end all factors contributing to RIM’s downfall.

The book concludes with the most recent outlook on BlackBerry’s current financial situation, its recent layoffs, and its new CEO John Chen, as well as an update on Lazaridis’ and Balsillie’s post-CEO activities and their present-day roles in boosting Waterloo’s and Canada’s technology research.

Losing the Signal is a fascinating, well-researched book that is almost as addictive as the once-legendary BlackBerry device itself. Based on numerous interviews with both RIM CEOs and countless former RIM employees, this intriguing narrative is a must-read for BlackBerry investors and would-be entrepreneurs alike — a truly accurate portrait of the considerable day-to-day struggles that all startups face and the extraordinary pressures that every public company must grapple with.

Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry, published by Harper Collins, is available for purchase at the UW Bookstore.

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