Whatever happens to BlackBerry from here on out, it won't make any difference to Jim Balsillie. As of Thursday, the onetime co-CEO of the mobile maker formerly known as Research in Motion no longer has any stake in the company he helped lead for 20 years.
According to an SEC filing on Thursday, Balsillie now owns zero shares in BlackBerry, née RIM. Exactly one year ago, he reported holding 26.8 million shares – which means he sold off his entire stake in the last 12 months.
It's hard to estimate just how much cash the sale may have won him, given what a turbulent year 2012 was for BlackBerry's share price.
One thing is for sure, though. Balsillie might have been a lot richer today had he cashed out in the mid-2000s, when RIM's fortunes were looking brighter and his own net worth was estimated at as much as $3.4bn.
Had he unloaded all 26.8 million of his former shares at today's closing price, he would have netted just $404m.
Along with co-CEO Mike Lazardis, Balsillie stepped down from his executive role at RIM in January 2012 under intense pressure from shareholders, making way for the pair's handpicked successor, Thorsten Heins, to assume the top spot.
For a brief while after he resigned, Balsillie retained a seat on RIM's board of directors. But he reportedly butted heads with Heins, who believed a radical change of direction was in order if the company were to survive against competition from the likes of Android and the iPhone. Balsillie was said to have preferred sticking to RIM's existing strategy.
Ultimately, Balsillie quit the board after just three tough months, during which the Canadian mobile maker reported a loss of $125m. At the time, he described the move as the completion of his "retirement from RIM."
Now that Balsillie is financially divorced from the company as well, that retirement couldn't be more final.
It's tempting to interpret Balsillie's sell-off as an extreme no-confidence vote in BlackBerry's future. After all, the former co-CEO never doubted the company's stock performance during his own tenure. In fact, in December 2011, he and Lazardis voluntarily reduced their own salaries to $1 per year in a show of "passion, alignment, and commitment to RIM's long-term success."
It's equally likely, however, that Balsillie just wants to put his time in tech behind him and concentrate on other pursuits. In addition to various philanthropic activities, Balsillie has been actively pursuing the purchase of a National Hockey League franchise for several years.
BlackBerry shareholders apparently preferred the more positive explanation; the company's shares had gained nearly 8 per cent by Thursday's closing bell and continued their climb in after-hours trading. ®