Photography by Dean Palmer and John Ternan
When smartphone trailblazer Research In Motion was growing by leaps and bounds in the early 2000s, one of its biggest challenges was finding business managers with experience in the technology industry.
The company, later renamed BlackBerry Ltd., needed business people at all levels who understood the unique challenges of taking a high-tech enterprise to the global level — everything from how to protect intellectual property to understanding technology licensing, finance and capital markets, working with network carriers, acquisition strategies, and developing production, sales and distribution systems for a highly regulated international marketplace.
“We realized that experienced high-tech management and business leadership was hard to find,” recalls company founder Mike Lazaridis, who grew his start-up into an $18-billion global business, effectively creating the smartphone industry in the process. “We frequently had to look beyond Canada, particularly to the United States.”
A gifted engineer and visionary entrepreneur, Lazaridis is now helping to address the tech-management gap through a strategic partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University that will teach business students and business leaders how to manage and scale high-tech start-ups into globally competitive businesses.
The heart of the initiative is the new Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises. Located on Laurier’s Waterloo campus, this innovative institute is being created with the help of a $20-million donation from Lazaridis and a $15-million commitment from the Ontario government.
“The Lazaridis Institute is designed to be a global leader in providing management research, education and training that will prepare the next generation of business leaders to grow Canadian technology businesses globally,” says Micheál Kelly, dean of the School of Business and Economics. “The institute will draw top talent nationally and internationally, it will build partnerships with leading global organizations, and it will create networks with leading business schools in tech hubs across Canada and around the world.”
In recognition of Lazaridis’ many accomplishments and his generous gift to Laurier, the university has named its business and economics faculty the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.
“I can’t imagine a better name for a school of business,” says Kelly. “The Lazaridis name is recognized nationally and internationally. It’s a name that is associated with vision, innovation and excellence. Our association with this name provides us with a singular opportunity to build the visibility of the school, nationally and internationally, and to make more people aware of what a great business school we have here at Laurier.”
The Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, along with the university’s mathematics department, will soon move into a $103-million landmark building that is nearing completion on University Avenue in Waterloo. Known until recently as the Global Innovation Exchange, this state-of-the-art facility has also been named in Lazaridis’ honour and will henceforth be called Lazaridis Hall.
The new name of Laurier's existing School of Business & Economics. Originally established in 1966, the Lazaridis School is one of the most prestigious business schools in Canada.
A newly established institute housed within the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics, made possible by $20-million investment from Mike Lazaridis and $15-million in support from the Province of Ontario. The Lazaridis Institute is designed to be a global leader in providing management education and research to support the growth of the technology industry in the region, in the province, and across the country.
Establishing the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises is part of the BlackBerry creator’s vision to ensure that Canada, and Waterloo Region in particular, is ready for the next “industrial supercycle” — an era that Lazaridis and other leading thinkers on the subject believe will be defined by quantum-based technology.
Quantum physics, which has been evolving since about 1900, is a way to understand how nature behaves at the tiniest levels — the world of atoms and subatomic particles. One of its most intriguing concepts is superposition,” the notion that things at the quantum level can exist in multiple states and multiple locations at the same time. Scientists and engineers have been putting quantum physics to use for several decades, but harnessing quantum behaviour on a broad, practical scale is expected to revolutionize technology to a degree not seen since the 1947 invention of the transistor — a Nobel-Prize-winning achievement that led to the development of modern computers and electronics.
To help prepare Canada for this “next quantum revolution,” Lazaridis has invested more than $320 million over the past 15 years in theoretical and applied research, primarily through the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), both in Waterloo. In support of his vision and leadership, the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario have both made major investments in these two institutes. As well, Lazaridis and his longtime friend and BlackBerry co-founder Doug Fregin established the $100-million Quantum Valley Investment fund in 2013 to support the commercialization of breakthrough technologies in quantum information science.
“Canada pretty well sat out the last quantum revolution in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” says Lazaridis, whose many honours include the Order of Canada, Order of Ontario, Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), and The Globe and Mail’s Nation Builder of the Year award. “What we’re trying to do now is lay the groundwork and make the investments necessary to create the opportunity for Canada to participate successfully in the next quantum revolution.”
While his vision is national in scope, Lazaridis believes that the well-established tech ecosystem in Waterloo Region is the perfect foundation for developing a world-leading hub for quantum research and commercialization — a hub that is gaining awareness globally under the brand name the “Quantum Valley.”
“We know it can be done here because this region has this incredible culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and self-sufficiency,” he says. “You can see it in the success that IQC and the Perimeter Institute have had — the whole community has gotten behind these institutes.
“There is a latent receptivity in the region and a culture that is very much a can-do culture, and you have these two universities and a college that are both a magnet to attract talent and a resource to train talent and to infuse talent with the latest understandings of science and technology and business. The Quantum Valley vision is actually working — we’ve made great strides in promoting the region as one of the top centres in the world for theoretical physics and for quantum computing and quantum information science.”
In addition to leading-edge research, a key requirement is the strategic development of a new generation of business leaders who understand the technology industry. By developing well-trained tech managers, Lazaridis believes that Canada stands a better chance of seeing more start-up companies stay here and grow to become globally competitive enterprises, which will keep more jobs, wealth and prosperity in this country.
It’s a need that Laurier’s Micheál Kelly understands well. In addition to his considerable experience as a business dean, Kelly is known for his research and consulting work in the area of technology management, venture-capital financing and strategic alliances.
Upon joining Laurier in 2012, Kelly saw the potential for creating stronger ties between the university’s renowned business program and Waterloo Region’s dynamic technology community.
He quickly set to work developing a proposal that linked the school’s business programming and its new building with Lazaridis’ vision for strengthening the Canadian tech sector.
For Lazaridis, who values the twin virtues of being bold and being prepared, the potential for collaboration was both timely and exciting.
“When Micheál Kelly and Laurier President Max Blouw came to talk to me about their plans for the Laurier business school and the new building — the scope and the ambition behind it, and Micheál’s experience with the technology industry — we realized that there was a shared vision,” says Lazaridis. “That was the ‘aha!’ moment.’”
A landmark new building set to open in 2016 on Laurier's Waterloo campus. Lazaridis Hall will be the home of the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics and Laurier's Department of Mathematics.
A keen proponent of co-operative education, Lazaridis was impressed with the size of the school’s undergraduate business co-op program — nearly half of the university’s 4,200 BBA students are in the co-op stream, making it the largest business-degree co-op program in Canada. Lazaridis was also intrigued by the school’s many other “immersive” learning opportunities, such as the Integrated Case Exercise (ICE), the Laurier Student Investment Fund, the Laurier Startup Fund, and the LaunchPad entrepreneurship program.
Lazaridis says one of the most valuable aspects of the Lazaridis Institute will be the exposure students get to business leaders who have experienced the challenges of running a high-tech company, from the use of venture capital to the war-like reality of patent litigation.
“The only place you’re going to learn those skills is from business leaders who have gone through it,” he says. “That’s one of the most important parts of the Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises — bringing in people with that kind of experience as special visitors, special lecturers, and advisers with the curriculum.”
More than two years after his initial meeting with Kelly and Blouw, Lazaridis spoke at a packed event to announce the naming of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics in September.
“I chose to invest in Laurier because I believe that it is uniquely positioned to transform the way that technology business managers are trained and developed,” said Lazaridis, whose star power in the tech and business worlds attracted a huge crowd, including three provincial cabinet ministers. “I believe that the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Enterprises will help Laurier produce exceptional tech-savvy business managers and leaders that Canadian technology companies will need to grow and succeed globally.”
Laurier President Max Blouw called the celebration of the Lazaradis and provincial contributions a “landmark day” for both Laurier and the school of business and economics.
“This is a strategic public-private partnership investment that reflects the key roles that private citizens and governments can play together in advancing our economy, our quality of life, and provincial and national prosperity,” he said.
For Micheál Kelly, the Lazaridis donation is a gift that will keep on giving for decades to come.
“Mike Lazaridis has not only given his name to the school, he has also given us a pillar on which to build a global reputation,” says Kelly. “The Lazaridis name attests to the school’s outstanding quality and helps us to continue to attract the best and the brightest in a very competitive marketplace.”