Jim Balsillie is a Canadian businessman and philanthropist. He is best known for his role as the co-founder of Research in Motion (RIM), the company that developed the BlackBerry smartphone, and for his current role as the Chairman of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), a not-for-profit organization representing the interests of Canada’s leading technology companies. He is also known for his philanthropic work and his efforts to bring a National Hockey League (NHL) team to Canada.
Jim Balsillie was born in Seaforth, Ontario, Canada on March 3, 1961. He grew up in a small town in southwestern Ontario and was the middle child in a family of five. His father, Raymond, worked as an electronics technician for Ontario Hydro and his mother, Laurel, raised Jim and his brother and sister. From an early age, Balsillie was interested in business as well as athletics.
In 1966, the family moved to Peterborough, Ontario, where Jim grew up. Balsillie was enterprising from a young age, selling Christmas cards door to door at age seven. In his teen years, he juggled several newspaper delivery routes and managed a painting operation. As well, he helped out at a Big Brothers of Canada camp, worked at a ski hill, and did maintenance at a trailer park.
He attended a local high school and then went on to study at the University of Toronto, where he earned a degree in economics and an MBA.
Scholarships allowed Balsillie to enter the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, where he studied commerce. He graduated in 1984 and spent the next three years working at Clarkson Gordon for their Entrepreneur Services Group. Balsillie then entered Harvard’s business school in 1987. While a student, he held several jobs on campus, including editor of the student handbook. Balsillie graduated in 1989 with his M.B.A., and later earned his Ph.D. from Wilfrid Laurier University.
After completing his education, he began working in the business world, eventually becoming the co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM), which later changed its name to BlackBerry, the makers of the famous mobile phones.
In the early 1980s, Balsillie began working as a chartered accountant for the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC). During his studies, he met Rick Brock, owner of Sutherland-Schultz, a small tech company in Cambridge, Ontario. After Balsillie graduated in 1989, he moved back to Canada and joined Sutherland-Schultz, where he became executive vice-president.
He would later be edged out of this company when it was acquired by another company in 1992. During the takeover negotiations, Brock suggested he use his severance to invest in Research in Motion – which was at the time a small company who had been a supplier to Sutherland-Schultz. That would be the beginning of a long partnership through RIM.
Along with Mike Lazaridis, he served as the company’s co-CEO until 2012. RIM developed the BlackBerry smartphone and during his tenure as Co-CEO, Balsillie helped the company become one of the most valuable in Canada.
Both Balsillie and Lazaridis were engineers by training, and they met while working at the University of Waterloo in Canada. They originally started the company to develop and sell communication software for point-of-sale terminals, but eventually shifted their focus to developing wireless communication devices.
The BlackBerry, which was first released in 1999, was one of their first products and quickly became one of the most popular smartphones in the world. The company’s success helped to establish RIM as one of the leading technology companies in Canada, and Balsillie and Lazaridis as successful entrepreneurs.
Balsillie’s early career was marked by his strong work ethic and his ability to identify and capitalize on emerging business opportunities. He has been described as a driven and ambitious individual, with a deep understanding of technology and a clear vision for the future of the mobile industry. His hard work and determination helped to make BlackBerry one of the most successful and influential companies in the world.
Balsillie stepped down from the company in 2012 and since then, he’s been involved in various philanthropic activities and investments. He’s a founding partner of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a think tank that focuses on governance, economy, and international relations. He’s also a member of the board of trustees of the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Waterloo, and the Rotman School of Management.
In addition to his work at RIM, Balsillie is also known for his philanthropic efforts. He is the co-founder of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a think tank focused on international governance and policy, and the Balsillie School of International Affairs, a graduate school focused on international relations.
He also serves as the Chairman of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), a not-for-profit organization representing the interests of Canada’s leading technology companies.
In 2007, Balsillie donated $50 million to the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and the Centre for International Governance Innovation as part of a $100 million initiative to create the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
As of 2021, Jim Balsillie’s net worth is around $1-5 million.
Balsillie has also served on the boards of several other major Canadian companies, including the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada. He is also a member of the Order of Canada and has received several other honors for his contributions to the business community.
Other achievements and awards include: