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In Pictures: 11 not entirely useless factoids about BlackBerry maker RIM

Trivial pursuits swirling around BlackBerry World 2012

  • Research in Motion’s BlackBerry World 2012 this week in Orlando will bring into sharp relief the company’s strategy and tactics to reverse its steep slide in the mobile market. Every announcement and comment will be sifted and weighed and analyzed and debated. But, seriously, there’s such a thing as being too serious. Herewith, 12 utterly useless factoids related to RIM.

  • The other RIM guy The second original co-founder of Research in Motion in 1984 was Douglas Fregin, who became pals with Mike Lazaridis in grade school. Jim Balsillie, the long-time co-CEO with Lazaridis, only joined in 1992. Fregin, a low-key, low-profile billionaire, was RIM’s back-room product engineering and operations maven for decades. He retired in 2007, still in his early 50s. He races cars in his spare time, participating in Toyota’s charitable Pro/Celebrity Race, and now works with the Salama Shield Foundation, an African development and AIDS relief agency in Uganda.

  • The other RIM guy The second original co-founder of Research in Motion in 1984 was Douglas Fregin, who became pals with Mike Lazaridis in grade school. Jim Balsillie, the long-time co-CEO with Lazaridis, only joined in 1992. Fregin, a low-key, low-profile billionaire, was RIM’s back-room product engineering and operations maven for decades. He retired in 2007, still in his early 50s. He races cars in his spare time, participating in Toyota’s charitable Pro/Celebrity Race, and now works with the Salama Shield Foundation, an African development and AIDS relief agency in Uganda.

  • The IPO RIM’s initial public offering finalized during fiscal 1998, trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. For 1998, RIM reported revenue of $21 million and net income of $400,000. In April 1999, it was trading at $2.58 per share (in U.S. dollars). The highpoint was June 20, 2008 at $148 and it’s been downhill ever since.

  • RIM wins an Oscar A 1998 Academy Award (and an Emmy) for Technical Achievement went to two Canadian National Film Board scientists, Ed H. Zwaneveld and Frederick Gasoi, and Mike Lazaridis and Dale Brubacher-Cressman, of RIM, for designing and developing the DigiSync Film Keykode Reader. The system processed the machine-readable barcodes on the edge of film stock, used to find, track and match film cuts in post-production work. Lazaridis attended a pre-Oscar ceremony and was handed the award (not the distinctive gold Oscar statuette) by actress Anne Heche, who had a small role that year in the movie “The Third Miracle.”

  • RIM’s first office Lazaridis and Fregin rented an office in the second floor of a strip mall at 55 Erb Street E., Waterloo, Ontario. The mall – now the Erb Professional Centre - is still there, 1.99 miles from RIM’s global headquarters, complete with a yoga studio and a hair salon among other local businesses. Their landlord, quoted in Alastair Sweeny’s “BlackBerry Planet,” said they were two kids who “needed one room. And they needed a bike rack because it was so hard to tie their bicycles up on the railings. I’ll never forget that.”

  • The RIM 950 Wireless Handheld: still ticking RIM introduced in 1998 the palm-sized device that would eventually be called the BlackBerry. But lots of people know that. What many don’t know is that you can still buy it. One company offering it is Charge Anywhere, an electronic payment solutions vendor: the 950, slightly modified to incorporate a magnetic card reader, lets users accept credit card payments anywhere they can get a cellular signal.

  • The dude in the skinny black tie He appears on a plaque, installed in 2011, in RIM’s boardroom: Ernest Davison, a gifted engineer, inventor, mentor, and startup adviser who played a critical role at a critical moment in RIM’s early history. He suggested that RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis pursue a new way of making electronic circuits, called surface mount technology. He did, and it led to a big contract win with a company called Sutherland-Schultz, pushing RIM to its first $1 million in sales in 1990. Two years later, a young Sutherland-Schultz exec named Jim Balsillie left to join RIM. Davison died in 2010, at the age of 80.

  • Apple announced the first iPhone in January 2007 and RIM announced… …a month later, the BlackBerry 8800, the thinnest yet, featuring the distinctive QWERTY keyboard and center-set trackball for navigation, built-in GPS with integrated BlackBerry Maps, low-distortion speakerphone, Bluetooth 2.0, 64MB of memory, microSD Card slot, and a 320 x 240 pixel display. CNET’s summary: “a well-rounded smart phone with added multimedia functions, GPS, and push-to-talk capabilities. That said, messaging remains its forte.”

  • How big is Mike Lazaridis’ new house? Under construction since 2006, it’s 26,000 square feet, sitting on roughly 100 acres on the shore of Lake Huron. By comparison the average size of a U.S. home in 2010 was 2,700 square feet on an average lot size of 0.5 acres. Scifi fan Lazaridis named the structure “Solaris” after Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 movie of the same name, based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem. But the locals just call it “the RIM house.”

  • What kind of a BMW motorcycle does RIM CEO Thorsten Heins ride? We have to sleuth and deduce this. In separate interviews, Heins reveals he drives a red BMW motorcycle, cruising first in the Bavarian Alps and now in the farmlands around Waterloo. Based on a check of BMW’s Website, that would seem to limit the options to either the BMW Sport S1000 RR "superbike," or the BMW Roadster F 800 R, which screams more mutedly. Our best guess, for a guy in his mid-50s, married, with two kids, trying to turn-around one of Canada’s tech powerhouses? The Roadster, shown here.

  • How much does Jim Balsillie love hockey? Balsillie, like his compadre Lazadiris, has been generous in charitable giving. According to his Wikipedia entry, Balsillie has given at least $95 million to various groups and causes just since 2000. But his deepest passion is hockey. A 2008 Bloomberg News story reported that he quit playing with RIM employees because he realized they weren't hitting him as hard as other players. “Who enjoys that?” he asked. He offered $212.5 million in 2009 for the bankrupt Phoenix Arizona Coyotes hockey team, his third bid for an NHL team. Like the other two, the Coyotes offer didn’t work out, mainly because he wants to move the franchise to Canada.

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