Where’d it go?

How far mighty RIM has fallen. Can you remember what things looked like for Research In Motion 3 years ago? Well, basically, it was the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla in the room. It was riding high and could (supposedly) feel rather bulletproof from the challenges to its brand, its technology and its market share.

Heck, even a year ago, things still looked reasonably rosy for the Canadian tech giant. Since then, a trap door opened; the stock has fallen 75%, the Co-CEO’s have both been displaced, their ‘Playbook’ tablet flopped horribly and their market share in important markets has departed for Antarctica. As perhaps the final indignity, it announced today it had retained counsel to “explore options” to kick-start revenue growth. (I suspect that’s really business code for finding a way to be bought as painlessly as possible, but we’ll see.)

What’s the lesson here? Was it hubris? Will classrooms full of future MBA’s spend the next few years applying case study analytics to real or imagined management missteps? Was it a “black swan” event?

I don’t pretend to know. But one thing seems clear: RIM got steamrolled by change. Change of an amplitude, intensity and speed that makes the head spin. You can, literally, be ‘on top of the world’ one minute, then just another piece of the detritus of history the next. In the Canadian context, another famous former 800 pounder comes to mind – Nortel Networks, now just a bankruptcy court file waiting to be tidied up.

Apple now rules the world. It looks bulletproof. It’s now the proverbial “most valuable company in the world”. Is it safe? Maybe. But GM, IBM, Toyota and that army of financial snake oil peddlars might have a sobering caution for #1. One thing’s (almost) for sure: Just when all the smart guys in the room decide they’re sure where things are headed, circumstances of all kinds conspire to make them wrong.

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