RIM virtually owns waterloo, a town of 100,000 where it employs more than 9,000 people.
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By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: In 2007, when BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) was at the top of the global smartphone market, its hometown Waterloo -- 100 km south west of Toronto -- was recognised as the world's most intelligent community.
Today, just days after RIM posted its first quarterly loss in eight years and announced to cut 5,000 jobs globally, the same community is bewildered and confused.
RIM virtually owns this town of 100,000 where it employs more than 9,000 people of its 16,500-strong global staff. The company has nourished virtually every family here; for, each job at RIM has created seven jobs. RIM offices and signs hit you wherever you drive.
The company's presence here is ubiquitous that that nearly one-third of the city's office space is either owned, or leased by RIM.
But today nobody knows how long the fabled RIM story will last as the troubled company faces extinction from the smartphone market as Apple's iPhone and Android devices gobble up its share, which is down to 5% now from 11% last year.
As the BlackBerry crisis hit closer to home, after quarterly losses on Thursday, city mayor Brenda Halloran said: "We don't know how many are going to be affected in our community, but it's significant for people. It's our friends and our families and our neighbours ... My heart goes out to the employees that are going to be affected."
Canada's minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, also sympathised, saying, "My thoughts are with the affected workers and their families."
Even the country's top daily Globe and Mail ran a front-page banner story, under the headline: A national icon at its breaking point?
In a town which RIM nourished for year, a few still hope that the icon will survive. "I believe in RIM and I'm confident that they're going to come out even stronger," said mayor Holloran.
As RIM put Canada on the technology map of the world, its co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, who ran it for 20 years from 1992 till this January, brought world-class institutes such as the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics to the town.
Lazaridis personally invested $150 million in the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics where the world-famous scientist Stephen Hawking has taught in summers. He also gave $100 million to the University of Waterloo -- his alma mater -- for setting up the Institute for Quantum Computing.
Co-CEO Balsillie also founded the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the Canadian International Council and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
So deep was their commitment to the town that Lazaridis and Balsillie, who were worth $3.6 billion and $3.4 billion respectively in 2008, would often sell own shares to promote charitable causes.
All this seems like a distant history now Lazaridis and Balsillie are gone. The town now prays for a sinking icon whose stock plunged 20% to close at $7.54 Friday after Thursday's shattering news.
Named after the famous battlefield in Belgium where Napoleon was defeated in his last battle by the Duke of Wellington, Waterloo was founded by European settlers in 1816 and soon became known for its entrepreneurship.
The famous Seagram distilling company was also founded here in 1857 by Joseph Seagram. (Global India Newswire)