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Connecting The Wire with RIM

The main plot of this HBO program is sure to resonate with the many ex-employees now pounding the pavement.


July 1, 2012  


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Hello, fellow 99 Percenters. How are we doing? Still making the mortgage payments, I hope. Since “austerity” is the watchword for these days of continued economic uncertainty, why not give up your pricier pursuits to stay home and watch some quality television?

If I may suggest a place to start, if you have not seen it then shop around and you’re sure to find a deal on the complete DVD set for The Wire — the five-season HBO police drama set in Baltimore that some critics have called the greatest television show of all time. (You may even be able to watch it on YouTube: Everything else seems to be there.)

The Wire is a work of fiction (and I bet poor Baltimore has had to spend millions to convince tourists of that fact) with a particularly cynical view of reality. But it’s a view that is sure to resonate with Canadians currently pounding the pavement.

Look beyond the ongoing battle of wits between the drug dealers and the police charged with stopping them — although there’s plenty of cynicism in that tale. For the really jaded view of How Life Is, follow the career and political jockeying of the higher-ups in the show: The mayors, the police commissioners, the senators, and others who understand how to play the game. Every one of them gets promoted in the end.

Mayor Thomas Carcetti becomes Governor of Maryland. Bill Rawls is promoted to the head of the Maryland State Police. Stanislaus Valcheck becomes Baltimore Police Commissioner. Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis together pocket almost $12 million in exit pay.

Whoops, sorry: I’ve confused The Wire with The Wireless, the show currently playing on screens across Canada’s technology sector.

There is no question that these two deserve megabucks for building Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion into a global technology giant. And they were paid handsomely for that effort during RIM’s glory days — putting them in the One Percent category that the Occupy Movement loves to target.

It must be pointed out that Balsillie and Lazaridis have been very generous with their wealth to create opportunity for Canadians in the other 99%. Just look at how Canadian universities have benefitted: Jim Balsillie has handed over something in the order of $100 million for academia, while Mike Lazaridis has donated roughly $250 million.

But RIM has been on a slide to the bottom since its market value peaked above $140 per share in June 2008. As I write this almost exactly four years later, RIM shares are wallowing around $10-$11 each and RIM has announced plans to shed 2,000 of its 16,500 employees in an effort to refloat the boat. Something very seriously went amiss — something that Balsillie and Lazaridis, who shared the duties of chair and CEO, failed to identify and address. As those 2,000 employees pack their desks and hand in their security passes, the $12 million exit package — a package that works out to roughly $6,000 for each of them — must leave a bitter taste in their mouths.

Shareholders must also be foaming, if they can get off the couch at all after clutching their RIM stock in hopes of a turnaround that never happened. Sure, nothing is certain in the stock market — it’s more of a casino than a bank — but that doesn’t change the fact that it is downright depressing to watch one’s sunset dreams reduced to wondering how stiff the competition will be for post-retirement jobs such as store greeters, coffee pourers, or “fry chef”.

While it may be too late for RIM shareholders, I advise the One Percenters at other Canadian telecom and wireless companies to keep the CP Rail lesson in mind. As Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund demonstrated through a months-long proxy battle with CP Rail’s board that ended on May 17 of this year, even well entrenched boards can be shown the door.

That said, maybe those who lead Canada’s wireless, telecom, cable and other technology companies are not really worried about that possibility. After all, as D’Angelo Barksdale famously said in The Wire, “The king stays the king” — and a few million dollars in exit pay makes it easier to wear the crown.

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian technology sector. He can be reached (on is mobile, when not watching The Wire on DVD) at 416-878-7730 or at trevor@wordstm.com.