Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Will/Should John Chen move BlackBerry to California?

I worked at Sybase for eight years under John Chen, the new CEO of BlackBerry. He was an interesting CEO - refreshingly (almost appallingly) frank. I remember he once came to the Waterloo office and told us that our market was shrinking, and that he felt like the captain of a leaky boat that was destined to sink. It seemed like Sybase did pretty well under Chen.

Another thing I remember, I think correctly, is that Chen moved the California HQ of Sybase from one town to another about an hour's drive away. This greatly upset the many employees who had purchased homes around the initial office, especially because the new building was close to Chen's house.

All this got me thinking about the future of BlackBerry under Chen. The best thing for BlackBerry might be a move to California, for lots of reasons.

BlackBerry isn't going to survive unless it can change its corporate culture. RIM got whammied with a perfect shitstorm that created that culture: the lawsuit, the hyper growth, the duality at the top. There are still too many people at BlackBerry - especially leaders - who don't sufficiently value productivity and quality. By moving the company, Chen could switch out a lot of the current personnel with Californians, thus transforming the culture relatively quickly.

Another factor is the corporate culture of Waterloo. How can I put this delicately... oh hang it: in Waterloo, many people work to live rather than live to work. That's great: their priority is their families and friends. But all too often, ambition in Waterloo is a sense of entitlement; there often isn't the right environment to hone and select the best leaders.

Waterloo is a great place for a development office, what with all the high class talent coming out of the University of Waterloo, but it might not be the best place to headquarter a large, cutting edge tech firm. We have so many startups here that the corporate culture might change, but for now, California could be BlackBerry's best bet.

(With apologies to the many brilliant people I have worked with in Waterloo.)

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