Weekend Reading: Losing The Signal Edition

When I started working as a hotel sales manager we used MiKE phones on the old Telus push-to-talk network. I didn’t own a smart-phone until 2007, when our hotel group decided to arm its sales staff and senior management with the new Blackberry Curve.

Email on-the-go was a game changer for sales staff, who were no longer tied to their desks. Sales quotas and customer service standards were increased, as expectations were to respond to clients and fulfill requests within hours.

Losing the Signal

By 2009, Blackberry controlled half the smart-phone market. Today that number is less than one percent. A new book by Globe and Mail reporters Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish explores the rise and fall of one of the most iconic companies in Canadian history.

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, gives readers an inside look at how Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie built the fastest growing company in the world before a series of internal missteps, coupled with the entry of Apple and Google into the smart-phone business, led to Blackberry’s downfall.

The book is highly entertaining, from Jim Balsillie’s Art of War business style, out-maneuvering rivals and shrewdly negotiating with mobile networks and carriers, to Mike Lazaridis and his quiet genius that took Research in Motion from its humble beginnings above a bagel store in Ontario and turned it into a global power.

The authors did an outstanding job – the book reads more like a novel than a case study – digging into the fast-paced world of technology and explaining some of the distractions that plagued RIM at the worst possible time. From patent-trolls, to an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission over improper back-dating of employee stock options, to Balsillie’s relentless pursuit to own an NHL franchise, all while Apple was changing the smart-phone market right in front of their eyes.

We’re giving away a copy of Losing the Signal to one lucky Boomer & Echo reader – just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered for a chance to win.

You can also buy a copy here.

This Week’s Recap

On Monday I wrote about the challenge of balancing a full time job along with many side projects and a busy young family.

On Wednesday Marie described the conflict of interest in many sales professions.

And on Friday I asked whether it’s a form of buyer’s regret that has many home owners rushing to pay down their mortgages.


Earlier this month I took advantage of an incredible offer from TD for its First Class Travel Visa Infinite card. Sign up before July 31st and you’ll get 20,000 travel points ($100 value), plus if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days you’ll get an additional 20,000 points. Not only that, you’ll also get a $100 gift card to one of these retailers:

  • Amazon.ca
  • Starbucks
  • Best Buy
  • Ultimate Dining Card

Get this offer today.

Weekend Reading:

One of the best investment bloggers today is Ben Carlson and he has a new book out called A Wealth of Common Sense. Look for my review shortly, but in the meantime enjoy this Q&A with Ben.

Later today we’re taking our girls to see Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out. It’s a surprisingly accurate representation of how memory actually works.

Here’s why the robots are coming . . . to put you in an index fund.

John Manley described the Canadian Dairy industry as “the last Soviet-style economic regime on the planet.”

How people throw away good money every day. SquawkFox Kerry Taylor explains:

When it comes to buying a new car, we’re taught to haggle to try and get the best deal. Here’s why car dealer’s profit is much lower than you think.

You don’t have infinite money. Spend it on stuff that research says makes you happy.

Here are 9 ways to make your kids smarter about money.

Is there such thing as the perfect portfolio? WealthSimple’s Dave Nugent says it doesn’t exist.

Most financial advisors are focused on the years leading up to, but not necessarily including, retirement. Is your advisor retirement ready?

The Motley Fool shares 3 retirement-crushing unforeseen circumstances.

Sheryl Smolkin explains what the new RRIF withdrawal rules will mean for you.

My Own Advisor explains why “we can’t afford it” remains taboo.

Our Big Fat Wallet had a good experience getting a credit card upgrade.

From arrival to retirement – Million Dollar Journey shares an immigrant family’s success story.

Death by boredom. Rob Carrick and Moshe Milevsky explain the problem of teaching financial literacy.

Alan Whitton describes some symptoms that your debt load is getting out of control.

These powerful photos of people living with debt will make you feel not alone.

Parents downsized to a $400,000 small house and now the kids are embarrassed.

And finally, Michael James on Money describes how guilt-free spending can be accomplished through good planning.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Losing the Signal.

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  1. Brian @DebtDiscipline on June 27, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Its amazing how blackberry fell apart. I had one for years, it was a business standard.

  2. Beth on June 27, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    I remember the glory days of RIM and some of my classmates showing off their blackberries while they were on co-op there. How times have changed! Just put this book on hold at the library 🙂

    The photo essay on people living with debt was really interesting – great share!

  3. canadianbudgetbinder on June 27, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing a CBB post. Have a Happy Canada Day Week!

  4. CanTex on June 28, 2015 at 5:23 am

    I remember great angst from the plastics maker that supplied all the plastic bodies for Nokia in Texas. As a contractor I observed, though,that Nokia was not concerned, that Blackberry was a fad and the small brick phones Nokia had were the standard forever. Hmmm. Nokia gone, plastics manufacturer gone. And Blackberry? I knew people at Blackberry who put their all into it and now they and their talents have gone.

  5. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 5:29 am

    As a BlackBerry supporter, I take exception to the continual bashing of BlackBerry. It might be better to note BlackBerry as a true turnaround story rather than continually noting it’s past mistakes. Seventeen of the G20 countries use BlackBerry for all government employees. Blackberry has recently won a large NATO contract to provide security for communications. Most cars now use BlackBerry QNX as it grows in the internet of things. John Chen is a true Canadian celebrity. He has noted the problems as handset sales drop off. This is the next stage in his reimagining of the company. We should give BlackBerry kudos for surviving and now growing, and not be continually looking at it’s past shortcomings.

    From My BlackBerry Passport

    Lee Blanchard

    • Echo on June 28, 2015 at 9:08 am

      @Lee – The turnaround story remains to be seen. The stock didn’t go to zero, as many expected, so the fact that the company is still hanging on could be considered as a turnaround.

      You can’t deny that its core business – handsets – has all but disappeared and if the company is to survive long-term it will look nothing like the RIM/Blackberry of the past.

      As a Canadian and former Blackberry loyalist, I hope it succeeds in this new era.

  6. Tracey H on June 28, 2015 at 5:58 am

    That book sounds very interesting! Some of my son’s friends went to work for RIM out of university and it seemed like a dream place to work. None of us saw what ended up happening coming.

  7. My Own Advisor on June 28, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Sounds like an interesting read. Kudos to Ben on the new book. Something else I’d like to check out.

    Thanks for the mention Robb – hope you’re having a great weekend!

  8. Pat O. on June 28, 2015 at 6:30 am

    So many people lost in purchasing Blackberry stock. I remember being asked why I wasn’t buying and thankfully i never did do buy any of the stick.

  9. SVinTO on June 28, 2015 at 7:11 am

    By focusing on the business market, Blackberry just never hit my consumer radar, unlike the iPhone. It’s interesting that since the iPhone, everyone, (Samsung et al) copies it, but no one really copied Blackberry.

  10. Irene S. on June 28, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Technology is changing so rapidly, it’s no surprise that even those that are driving the bus get in the wrong lane from time to time.

  11. Jordan on June 28, 2015 at 7:29 am

    My favorite post of the week! Thanks Robb. Plan to read the book whether I win or not 🙂

  12. daftster on June 28, 2015 at 7:51 am

    This should be a nice read!

  13. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 8:03 am

    To the point of business though, when Apple or Sony have been hacked into, what do they give their own employees – Blackberrys! Blackberry is still the gold standard in security. No company has been able to emulate that.

    • Echo on June 28, 2015 at 9:14 am

      @Lee – No doubt its secure network has no peer. In the book it’s revealed that Lazaridis was so stuck on the belief that Blackberry’s security, battery life, and low bandwidth for carriers was superior to its competitors that he didn’t understand why or how the iPhone was able to gain any traction at all, let alone dominate the smart-phone industry.

      The consumer market is where the growth is and the fact that repeated security breaches (iCloud) have been largely ignored seems to indicate that consumers don’t really care about security. Mid-level managers are also consumers and the bring-your-own device era in the workplace means they’re choosing less Blackberry’s and more “fun” devices from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

  14. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 8:29 am

    In my school children shut down the new iPhone by texting certain numbers and letters. It is considered a joke. It speaks volumes to marketing instead of quality. Especially, when the new Blackberrys win so many technology awards. As far as emulating Blackberry, Apple in particular said it was not bringing out a larger phone, but has in lieu of the success of the Passport. As far as the book by Carrick et al, it is old news – very old news and most Blackberry users know that. To my point that we need to dwell on recent successes.

  15. Jim on June 28, 2015 at 8:34 am

    I was a very early user of Blackberry (when it was data only!) and it was a truly great product. It was inevitable that imitations would arrive on the market but the market was theirs to loose and they did! I have always suspected Balsillie’s arrogance was the main reason for their demise but must read this book to discover the truth.

    • Jim on July 10, 2015 at 8:19 am

      Having now read the book, it is very disappointing to read that both Lazaridis and Balsillie were highly dysfunctional and completely out of place trying to run this organization. They may have been brilliant entrepreneurs well equipped to get the company up and running but they should have gotten out of the way at that stage. Their arrogance and ignorance hurt a lot of people.

  16. Paul on June 28, 2015 at 9:44 am

    I enjoyed my Blackberry while I had it but don’t know if I would go back.

  17. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for the replies! I know that there are still many of you out there. Let’s not forget that there are still millions and millions of BlackBerry users out there! In Europe it is still considered the gold standard. BBM channels is one of the largest social networks – yes, remember BBM! It is cross platform like so much of Blackberry now. The new BlackBerry may not look like the old BlackBerry but lots is still growing at BlackBerry.

    • kcowan on June 28, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      I was a loyal BBY user in 1999. I did not leave home without it. I always felt that texting was so much more efficient than voice (even with 2 thumbs). Non-intrusive and private. We were also using their motherboard to turn Schlumberger wired terminals into wireless POS devices that could handle Interac.

      I could never get over their total lack of interest in our success with their technology. I felt that they were narrow-minded. Perhaps blinded by their own success.

      I never held their stock but I have held AAPL since 2001 because I liked their attitude. I guess I was lucky.

      • Jim on June 28, 2015 at 1:35 pm

        What a coincidence. I was also in the POS business and we wanted to use their modem to develop a wireless terminal. It would have been the first in Canada for sure and maybe in the world. However, there was no interest on RIM’s part in working with us so we dropped the project.

  18. Rick on June 28, 2015 at 10:16 am

    i would love to read more about Blackberry’s heydays. Regardless of where they are now they were once among the greatest companies in Canada

  19. Shelly on June 28, 2015 at 10:44 am

    That would be an interesting read!

  20. Bruce on June 28, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    RIM was a fantastic story, and there is potential for BB to rise again.

    • Jim on June 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Sorry, Bruce, but there is about as much chance of that happening as a Nortel resurgence! It’s really just a matter now of finding the right deal so that all the parts can be sold off. BB may continue in other areas, like mobile o/s (QNX for those who know) or security but never in the mobile business.

  21. Alan W. (BCM) on June 28, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you for the inclusion this week, it is amazing that folks just don’t realize how f**ked they are in terms of debt until they realize it.

  22. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    I think the comparison of Blackberry to Nortel is misguided. Blackberry still sells millions of handsets and is profitable at the moment. They have not laid out their full handset strategy yet, nor have they finalized their partnerships with large players in the industry. This is in no way equivalent to Nortel.

    • Jim on June 28, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      It seems like a very valid comparison to me! Nortel was a very well established company with a very successful, international business until a few very misguided individuals made a few stupid mistakes (obvious at the time and even more obvious in hindsight) which ruined the company. The only difference with Blackberry is we haven’t reached the endstage yet. I truly hope it will survive but will be amazed if it ever regains its former glory.

  23. Lee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Remember that Blackberry is still one of the largest stocks by volume traded in the United States and Canada. It’s time to stop bashing BlackBerry. The Leafs have Babcock, Blackberry has John Chen. We have got to win sometime!

    • Jim on June 28, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      I see no reason to stop bashing them. They screwed up big time and deserve to be bashed. And, comparing them to the playing side of a professional sports franchise IS pretty misguided.

  24. L ee Blanchard on June 28, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    BlackBerry is now a 5 fold company focusing on QNX, BES10, the internet of things, security plus handsets. Focusing on it’s missteps that are now years old is not helpful to it’s recovery. Within the day 6 new companies have signed on with BlackBerry. Within the week, Blackberry has signed a large security contract with NATO. Within the month it has acquired Secusmart and one other security company – growing its security arm. Software sale have grown 150% in the last quater. Handset sales are aimed to working people that expect productivity and cross platform connectivity. The company has downsized and is cash flow positive. It is not a company on it’s last legs. Remember in the late 1990s Apple was an educational software company on it’s last legs. Give John Chen a chance to turn the company around without the continual bad press.

    • Jim on July 10, 2015 at 8:21 am

      In case you didn’t notice, the book is about the history of Blackberry and not the future. As a result, comments here relate to that past and the missteps made rather than where the company is going now.

      • Lee Blanchard on July 10, 2015 at 10:38 am

        Hi Jim

        Thanks for the comment. I have read the book and realize what it’s trying to do. I love Rob Carrick and have a bookshelf full of things he has written. I just feel that he has written well on this topic and that this is essentially old news – in fact 2 – 3 years old. Most of it is well detailed in Carrick’s many columns for the Globe. I just don’t think continually bringing what is old and well aired and discussed news on BlackBerry in any way helps their recent attempts at ‎recovery.

        Thanks again!


  25. Erin D on June 29, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I own 75 shares of blackberry so it would definitely be an interesting read for me.

  26. Michael James on June 29, 2015 at 7:11 am

    I agree with the article about buying experiences rather than things. My uncle used to say that his things owned him. As the years go by I understand what he means more and more. Thanks for the mention.

  27. John P. on June 29, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Sounds like a very interesting read over the summer. Working in Waterloo you can really see the effects of BB’s demise around here.

  28. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on June 29, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the mention! I am currently on the wait list to get that book at the local library, very interested to read what went wrong with RIM/Blackberry

  29. Rob on June 29, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Blackberry and Nortel are not even close to being the same kind of situation. Read “The Bubble and The Bear” for a good look inside of Nortel.

    I’m currently about half-way through “Losing the Signal”- kindle edition. So far a good read.

  30. KC on June 29, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I’m a long-time BB user. I keep going back to my BB due to better security and in particular, their catering to the deaf and HOH community with their telecoil technology and TTY. No other phone holds up! Oh yeah, and my phone doesn’t break on the first drop, not like many iPhones and numerous Android devices that my friends seem to keep replacing.

    I’m looking forward to reading that book!

  31. Robin Y on June 29, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    There are still a lot of companies carrying and supporting Blackberry. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they built extensive Blackberry Back-Ends full of RIM servers and email handlers.

    Still the best keyboard in the biz though.

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