The art of Balsillie’s apology

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Did last week’s big stock announcement from RIM leave a sour taste in your mouth? Ever been jostled by another corporation who only cares about dollars and not sense? Well, when those companies make mistakes, like RIM did, someone’s got to stand up and wave the white flag at the public. A recent article from the National Post is all about the “art of corporate apologies”, how these big boys dig themselves out of holes. Apparently Mr. Balsillie did an alright job.

According to Bill Walker, senior vice-president of Veritas Communications Inc., a Toronto public relations firm, Mr. Balsillie’s apology worked because he admitted to mistakes and, more importantly, offered solutions. Mr. Balsillie and RIM’s other co-CEO, Mike Lazaridis, went so far as to offer $5-million each toward costs of the probe by securities regulators and the $250-million earnings restatement charge.

JetBlue and RIM, it should be noted, issued apologies immediately after the news broke. “Every news cycle that goes by is a lost opportunity,” says Mr. Walker. “The timing is everything.”

Most importantly, CEOs should remember to actually say “I’m sorry.” Executives often try to deflect blame and give excuses for poor corporate behaviour — think Enron Corp.’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who never actually admitted to any wrongdoing. But, given that they were in the process of defending themselves of criminal fraud, that is hardly a surprise.