You’ve probably seen their famous faces in American Express television commercials: Robert De Niro ruminating over his city, Ellen DeGeneres dancing to her own beat, and Mike Lazaridis scribbling on his blackboard. Mike Lazaridis? While the seemingly unpronounceable name and pudgy everyman mug are relatively unknown outside Canada, the co-creator of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail device is an icon back home. Canadians proudly claim him as their own Bill Gates.
”My life is about making ideas happen,” Lazaridis says in the Amex ad, scrawling on one of the dozens of blackboards that pepper the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an idea he made happen through a personal donation of $85 million.
Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the other man behind the pioneering BlackBerry, are among Canada’s most revered sons in these dawning days of the Information Age.
”I stand up when I give speeches, hold up my BlackBerry, which everybody in the world has, and say: ‘Canadian technology,”’ said Pamela Wallin, Canada’s consul general in New York.
Well, not exactly everybody.
Lazaridis and Balsillie are indeed making their mark far beyond this university town at the center of Canada’s so-called Technology Triangle, which employs 18,000 people at more than 400 high-tech companies.
The two have earned hundreds of millions dollars with the six-year-old BlackBerry, which was developed by engineers at their Research in Motion for internal use.
Yet, in typically understated Canadian fashion, there is little boasting: no yachts, no trophy wives, no scandals.
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