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ROME — Here’s a depressing exercise: Scan the upper reaches of the Top 1000 companies in the July-August issue of Report on Business magazine and try to spot Canada’s global winners. You could call them Canada’s corporate ambassadors, if they existed.
The short list is exceedingly short: Barrick Gold, Bombardier, Magna International, Thomson Reuters, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Suncor and BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion). Sadly, strong arguments can be made to strike most of them.
Barrick, the gold industry’s top producer, has deftly employed a series of costly, self-inflicted wounds to more than halve its share price.
Bombardier is truly a global player and has fine brand recognition within the aerospace and train industries. However, the thrice-delayed C Series jet, its most ambitious aircraft, could yet prove to be a dud. Potash Corp., the top fertilizer company, has global sales but is largely a Canadian producer. Ditto Suncor. That leaves Magna, Thomson Reuters and BlackBerry.
Of that trio, BlackBerry is the standout winner, or at least was. It was Canada’s dream enterprise.
It came out of nowhere to utterly dominate the global smartphone industry. Its brand became so popular, so ubiquitous, that it was used as a verb (“BlackBerry me” or “BB me”).
It created huge amounts of value for shareholders and spawned a tech ecosystem in Southern Ontario, a welcome development after Nortel’s demise.
No doubt, it was Canada’s finest international star, a compelling meld of useful technology and fashion, the must-have device for everyone from CEOs and Vatican cardinals to scientists and university students.
And it’s about to disappear. BlackBerry’s plummeting global market share, now less than 3 per cent, verges on the insignificant. It is losing money. Its (former) creative forces, Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, were superb innovators but failed to keep the company competitive after Apple’s iPhone emerged as the whale in the aquarium in 2007. BlackBerry probably will not survive as an independent company. It is evaluating its “strategic options,” meaning it is likely to be sold to a larger competitor or taken private and vanish from the stock market.
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