John Paczkowski

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John Chen Is BlackBerry’s $88 Million Man

BlackBerry executive chair and interim CEO John Chen just accepted what is arguably the most challenging job in tech — and perhaps the worst, as well. But he’s being well compensated for taking it on.

Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that Chen is to receive a yearly salary of $1 million, along with a performance bonus of $2 million. He has also been awarded 13 million restricted shares in the company.

Currently worth about $85 million, those shares are scheduled to vest over the next five years. A quarter of them will become payable after three years, another quarter after four years, and the remaining 50 percent after five years.

It’s a massive compensation package, particularly for a company undergoing a brutal restructuring that will see it sack some 4,500 employees. But evidently it was crucial to bringing Chen onboard. “Once we saw John Chen, we had to work to make sure we could attract him,” Prem Watsa, CEO of BlackBerry’s largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial, said of Chen’s deal.

And, to be fair, Chen does seem a promising hire for the foundering BlackBerry. He has turned around a similarly troubled business before: Sybase. When Chen joined that company as CEO in 1998, it was nearly at death’s door. Some 13 years later, Chen had sold it to SAP for $5.8 billion — more than 15 times the company’s market cap when he took up the reins.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work