Fortune interviews RIM co-CEO’s Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis

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RIM co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis

RIM named Fortune’s number 1 Fastest Growing Company.

RIM’s booming sales have made it Fortune’s number 1 Fastest Growing Company. Over the past decade, RIM has sold around 65 million phones to over 28.5 million subscribers. This has grown RIM’s stock market capitalization from $96 million to $42 billion in the process. BlackBerry devices continue to dominate the smartphone market with a 56% share of the $12 billion U.S. in revenue.

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie are confident that RIM can handle their rate of growth but Lazaridis admits that “sometimes we have to put the brakes on.” He goes on to say, “We’ve shown that we can handle annual 100% growth. I’m not sure we could handle more than that.”

The history of RIM is well known but Fortune’s interview reveals an incredible sales strategy on the part of Balsillie that solidified BlackBerry as the corporate standard. As Jim made constant trips back and forth between the US and Canada, he would meet with enterprise customers all over North America. “Every time I’d go up there and present, I’d sit there and ask, ‘Who here uses Microsoft Exchange?’” he remembers. “And two-thirds would raise their hands. Then I’d say, ‘Who here would like to get e-mail on their belt for free?’” He collected business cards and sent “e-mail evangelists” — kids just out of college — back to get the bankers up and running. Within a year the BlackBerry had become a staple on Wall Street. “It was a puppy dog sale,” he says. “‘Take a puppy dog home, and if you don’t like it, bring it back.’ They never come back.”

Balsillie and Lazaridis admit that while BlackBerry devices are selling really well in North America, it’s foreign markets that will prove to be fruitful for RIM. According to the article, RIM has partnerships with over 475 carriers in 160 countries. “The thought that Latin America and Western Europe could someday be like North America in terms of market penetration gets us very, very excited,” says Balsillie.

Another strategy of RIM’s is to build the developer community. In the end, it’s the software that makes the device, so courting developers is a top priority for RIM. “What you carry on your belt is now your MP3 player, will be your plasma TV, is your social-networking machine, is your Internet terminal, your camera, your personal navigation device,” says Balsillie.

Courting developers is also done through the BlackBerry Alliance Program. This program is headed by Jeff McDowell, the vice president of business, marketing, and alliances. Jeff gets an incredible amount of face time with the RIM co-CEO’s, and says “I talk to Mike at least once a day, and Jim usually four times,” says McDowell. “I can show up at Jim’s office anytime he’s in and he’ll see me.”

This helps Jeff build a better developer community where developers are making money, and thus RIM is making money. “Our objective is to help developers make money,” explains McDowell. “That creates the buzz, and then I don’t have to worry about the benefits to RIM.”

Check out the full article but I would add a caveat: the journalist who wrote the article is constantly looking for the iPhone angle. The author, Jessi Hempel, should have known that the RIM co-CEO’s aren’t going to comment on Apple, and therefore should have focused on RIM’s current success and business strategy. In case you were wondering, Apple came #39.

Read the entire Fortune article: Smartphone wars – BlackBerry’s plan to win.

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