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Running faster is not the solution to Canada’s productivity challenge

By Denzil Doyle

Canada’s debate on productivity is one in which the country’s high-tech industry has both a right and a responsibility to participate.

If you read what passes for conclusions in the many reports that have been written on the subject over the years, you would be left with the impression that all we have to do is run a little faster on our individual treadmills and apply more sophisticated manufacturing equipment; in no time, we would be as productive as our largest trading partner, the U.S.

Unfortunately, most of these reports are flawed because they fail to take into account the forces of globalization, particularly those that impact on a branch-plant economy like Canada’s.

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Where do the next opportunities lie for savvy tech entrepreneurs?

By Denzil Doyle

Having just completed 50 years in the computer industry ( I joined Digital Equipment Corporation on March 21, 1963), I would like to reflect upon some of the major advances in the industry during that period and to speculate on those that we might witness in the next 50 years.

As for the past, by far the greatest advances have been in the cost and size of computer memory. In 1963, Digital sold a computer called the PDP-5 which was unique in that it used both core memory (4096 words of 12 bits each) and transistors ( 500,000 bits per second clock rate) as opposed to drums and vacuum tubes. Additional memory could be obtained by ordering a “Memory Extension Unit” for $10,000 and 4096 word blocks of memory at $10,000 each – all in 1963 dollars.

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Peeling away the layers of a great CEO

By Denzil Doyle

In my last article, I discussed the tendency of key stakeholders in a high technology company to call for the CEO’s resignation at the first sign of trouble, particularly if the CEO is a technical person who lacks “business management” experience. The pressure for change is usually strongest from the financial community. My advice to a board of directors that must deal with such pressure is to remain focused on the qualities that any good CEO must possess regardless of his or her background, namely leadership, management, technology knowhow, and marketing knowhow.

I cited the example of Ken Olsen, the founding president of Digital Equipment Corporation, who came under severe criticism from Wall Street for turning in a bad quarter shortly after the company went public, despite the fact that he had built a company with sales of over $100 million in less than a decade. (That was the equivalent of over $1 billion today.)

Ken decided to go to New York and address his critics directly. He started with a lecture that went something like this:

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When is it time to say, ‘Our CEO’s got to go?’

By Denzil Doyle

By definition, innovation is all about change, which means that the duties and responsibilities of a high technology CEO are bound to change as the company grows.

While a board of directors must pay close attention to those changes and how well the existing CEO is reacting to them, the board must resist the temptation to terminate the CEO prematurely. This is particularly true if the founding CEO is a technical person. Many directors are of the opinion that it is their responsibility to bring in a more “business-oriented” person at the first sign of trouble.

Unfortunately, business orientation can mean different things to different people, but as a general rule, the following four parameters are important in a CEO’s evaluation:

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Some dos and don’ts of governance

By Denzil Doyle

In my last article I wrote about the role that a board of directors can play in the success or failure of a company and how to go about recruiting one. In this article, I will give an example of a board model that shareholders could feel good about and one that had danger signals written all over it right from the beginning.

A rough ride for RIM

I will start with the one with the danger signals. About four years ago, when Research in Motion was flying high, I attended a talk by a seasoned CEO who was very critical of many aspects of corporate governance at RIM, but particularly about the existence of two CEOs. It was the strong consensus of the meeting (which took the form of a panel discussion) that a dual-CEO system does not work and that the RIM board was negligent in allowing it to happen there.

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