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Former Exchange Chief Stymiest Takes Helm at RIM in Shakeup

Barbara Stymiest
Barbara Stymiest, CEO of the TSX Group Inc., speaks at a luncheon sponsored by The Canadian Society of New York Foundation, Inc. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Barbara Stymiest, the former banker and stock exchange executive who’s been ranked among the world’s most powerful businesswomen, now faces a new challenge helping turn around Research In Motion Ltd., the BlackBerry maker that’s lost 90 percent of its market value in less than four years.

Stymiest, 55, a RIM director since 2007, was named chairman of the Waterloo, Ontario-based company, replacing former co-Chairmen and co-Chief Executive Officers Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.

“They’ve not only built an iconic brand, they literally pioneered the smart phone industry,” Stymiest said in an interview, referring to Balsillie and Lazaridis.

With the new position, Stymiest shifts from banking and finance to technology, as the smartphone seller tries to stem a plunge in sales and declining market share to bigger competitors such as Apple Inc.

She’ll also need to win over shareholders such as Northwest & Ethical Investments LP and Jaguar Financial Corp., which had been pushing for a management overhaul as RIM’s stock plunged. RIM fell 9.1 percent to C$15.67 at 4 p.m. trading in Toronto, the biggest drop in five weeks.

“She’s been part of the problem,” Jaguar CEO Vic Alboini said in an interview from Toronto. “I don’t think she’s going to be strong enough to make the changes necessary. We would say to her, ‘Prove us wrong’.”

Royal Bank Post

Stymiest retired from her post last year as a senior executive with Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest bank, saying she wanted to devote more time to board work, charity and lowering her handicap in golf. She last served as group head of strategy, treasury and corporate services at the Toronto-based bank.

Stymiest’s role with Royal Bank had capped a career that began at Ernst & Young after graduating with a business administration degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in 1978. She became partner at Ernst & Young by age 30, the youngest at the firm, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario.

After Ernst & Young, Stymiest spent seven years with Bank of Montreal’s Nesbitt Burns brokerage before joining the Toronto Stock Exchange as president and CEO in 1999. She was the first female president of a North American stock exchange, according to the company’s history.

Headed Exchange

At the time she took over, the exchange was plagued by a history of computer problems and breakdowns. She headed Canada’s largest stock exchange for five years and oversaw the transformation of the bourse into North America’s first publicly traded exchange in November 2002, resulting in the creation of TSX Group Inc., predecessor to TMX Group Inc.

Royal Bank hired Stymiest to a new role of chief operating officer during a management overhaul in 2004 after a slump in the U.S. eroded profit at the bank. She was responsible for “strategic development,” with all corporate areas reporting to her, including finance and risk management.

Fortune magazine named her one of the 50 most powerful women in global business three times from 2006 to 2008, and she was named one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” in 2008 by American Banker.

Stymiest served as a member of the Trilateral Commission, an international consortium of leaders from business and government, between 2004 and 2010, overlapping Balsillie’s involvement from 2006 to 2010.

An avid golfer who also does fly fishing, Stymiest is a trustee with the Royal Ontario Museum and vice chairman of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. She previously served as a director for RBC Dexia Investor Services and Symcor Inc., a financial processing services provider.

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