1. blackmoe's Avatar
    This artlcle appeared in todays Kitchener-Waterloo Record (RIM's hometown)

    TheRecord - Inventor who helped RIM finally gets his due
    08-27-11 01:12 PM
  2. Michelle Haag's Avatar
    Wow, that was an awesome story! Thanks for sharing it.
    08-27-11 01:32 PM
  3. blackmoe's Avatar
    Wow, that was an awesome story! Thanks for sharing it.
    I thought the mention of Mike's first office above a bagel shop in downtown Waterloo was funny. I wish there was still a bagel shop downtown, I wonder where it was.
    08-27-11 01:56 PM
  4. thecoach1999's Avatar
    Good post and great story.
    08-27-11 03:18 PM
  5. Rootbrian's Avatar
    About time he received it

    Posted from my CrackBerry at wapforums.crackberry.com
    08-27-11 03:53 PM
  6. Jake Storm's Avatar
    Thanks for posting that.
    There are a lot of unsung heroes out there that never get recognized.
    08-27-11 04:34 PM
  7. ekafara's Avatar
    It is a bit long but I thought I'd post it on here for the people that don't want to go to another site to read an article.

    WATERLOO — In a boardroom near the office of Research In Motion founder Mike Lazaridis, a small grey plaque recently went up on the wall.

    It declared that the space would now be known as the Davison Memorial Room, after Ernest Davison, a “visionary engineer to inventors.”

    The installation was a quiet, largely unnoticed move by the tech giant, but it says a lot about the man whose picture now looms over executives at RIM.

    But who was Ernie Davison — and why would a company that made its fortune in BlackBerrys honour a man who was born 70 years before most people had ever heard of a smartphone?

    The answer is that RIM, according to friends and insiders, wouldn’t be the company it is today without him. And neither would dozens of other local firms that owe at least part of their success to Davison.

    “He’s one of the reasons Waterloo Region is what it is today,” is how his friend, Newt Gingerich, sees it.

    Davison, who died last November at 80, was once the man people like Lazaridis turned to when they needed advice. In the process, he helped local businesspeople like him create a lot of jobs, and a lot of wealth.

    With a PhD in engineering and an inventor in his own right, Davison was a highly-trained consultant and a sounding board for technical ideas. He saw trends others didn’t see, particularly in the fledgling high-tech sector. His expertise made him a godsend for companies who had ideas on how to grow but lacked the know-how.

    Oh, and he was also the guy who could get you government money.

    For 16 years, Davison was the National Research Council’s man in Waterloo Region, and worked out of an office at the University of Waterloo. He advised hundreds of local companies and helped them get federal grants under the Industrial Research Assistant Program — ranging from $20,000 to $250,000.

    As a program adviser, he worked with small and mid-sized companies to develop new technologies. The list of firms he left his mark on includes Open Text, Dalsa, Hematite, Zepf Technologies, Virtek Vision, Clemmer Technologies, Ontario Drive and Gear, Zarpac, RIM and many others.

    But while Davison’s work with the program helped make other people rich, sometimes fabulously so, he lived off a humble government salary and didn’t seem interested in material rewards, say family and friends.

    When RIM was in its infancy in the 1980s, a young Lazaridis used to drop into Davison’s office in Needles Hall at UW, bouncing ideas off his mentor. His upstart company, run on a shoestring budget above a bagel shop in uptown Waterloo, needed help.

    “At the time, they were struggling, financially and otherwise, trying to keep their heads above water,” said Anne Papke, Davison’s former secretary.

    Davison believed in the young, ambitious man seeking his help. He would vigorously defend grant applications for RIM, even though his bosses at the National Research Council didn’t see the company’s promise, she said.

    “He would fight like cats and dogs to try and get people to see the technology. It was so forward-thinking it was hard to convince people. They’d say, ‘oh, this will never work’,” Papke said. “With the RIM case, they thought it was too out of reach.”

    One of Davison’s most notable contributions to RIM was his suggestion that Lazaridis get into a new way of making electronic circuits, called surface mount technology. The young founder was dubious because so few parts for surface mounts were available at the time, but he followed the advice.

    Davison helped RIM get a federal grant to investigate the new technology, work that led to a major contract with Cambridge’s Sutherland-Schultz — a deal that helped the Waterloo upstart post sales over $1 million for the first time in 1990.

    Sutherland-Schultz, at the time, also happened to be where a young executive named Jim Balsillie was working. In August 1992, Balsillie left the company and joined RIM, and the rest is history.

    RIM turned down an interview request with Lazaridis for this story, but the BlackBerry-maker praised Davison’s influence on RIM’s earliest stages, long before it was a household name.

    “His vision and encouragement to push the envelope and get into (surface mount technology) early enough to become a leader in that technology … opened up many new opportunities in the microelectronic industry for RIM in its early days,” the company said in an email.

    “It gave RIM nearly a decade head start before (surface mount technology) became the standard for things like wireless radios, cellphones and BlackBerry handsets.”

    According to friends, Davison was more than just an adviser to the young Lazaridis. They shared an interest in aviation, and took trips to exhibits, which may be part of the reason RIM made a $25,000 donation in his memory to the Canadian Air and Space Museum.

    Davison won business owners over one meeting at a time and developed a reputation as an intuitive problem solver. Most impressive was his brain — he could grasp complicated engineering concepts faster than most.

    “His mind was constantly working. It was like a cog, constantly turning,” Papke said.

    But making first impressions weren’t always his strong suit.

    He was notorious for showing up at meetings with no paperwork. Those who didn’t know him might have dismissed Davison as some kind of absent-minded professor — but they soon learned to respect his opinion, even if it didn’t look like he was paying attention.

    “We used to have meetings where people would discuss the projects on the roster to be funded … Ernie would sit there, seemingly asleep, in a distant place. Then at the end of the meeting, he’d come up with a point that would put the whole technology in question,” recalled Peter Cashmore, a former program colleague.

    “A lot of the younger guys would discount him as the bumbling professor. He gave off that appearance ... But he was really ahead of his time.”

    Many companies, too, were initially skeptical when approached by a government expert offering help. But his intellect, Irish sense of humour and down-to-earth, approachable style quickly won him friends. With each meeting, his reputation as a shrewd scientific adviser grew.

    If a project had Davison’s endorsement, it was almost guaranteed to sail through the government’s approval process. But if he saw flaws in a company’s plans, the project was dead in the water, Cashmore said.



    Davison, a career nomad, held more than 15 jobs in his life. He settled down in his later years, teaching engineering at the University of Guelph for about a decade.

    Life was not for sitting still, he believed.

    “It’s a mistake to stay in one job because you become obsolete and your knowledge becomes obsolete,” he told a reporter in 1990.

    His longest job, and the one he was most known for, came to him through a posting he saw in 1984 — for an industrial technology adviser with the National Research Council.

    The project Davison may have been most proud of wasn’t with a future corporate giant or technology darling. Instead, say friends, he sunk more of his heart into a little company in Baden with an audacious idea — that tractors could run on clear, quiet electricity.

    The company, Electric Tractor Corp., eventually went belly up in 2008, but not before attracting some bright minds and investors to its plans to build battery-powered workhorses. What ultimately brought the company down was the cost — the tractors were simply too expensive compared to gas-run models on the market.

    But the technology was second to none, supporters say, and no one believed in it more than Davison. He helped the company get federal funding, pulled together the necessary expertise and became a sounding board for Electric Tractor’s designers.

    After leaving his job with the federal government in 2000, he joined the company’s board of directors.

    “I could have never pulled it off without him,” said Gingerich, the tractor’s inventor, now retired and living in Tavistock. “He was very excited about it. He was way ahead of his time … He was very interested in the environment.”

    According to Gingerich, Davison saw the technology as a first step toward a viable electric car — a prospect that intrigued him very much.

    Davison also applied this interest in green technology to his own skills as an inventor.

    Up until his death, Davison was quietly working on an invention he believed could revolutionize electronic drivetrains, especially for aircraft hydraulic systems. His “harmonic engine” had only one moving part, a design that allowed it to create more torque and weigh less than conventional designs.

    It was an invention that Davison sunk much of his savings into and obtained international patents for.

    “It was his baby. He worked on it like a trooper,” said his friend Ed Bailey, a fellow engineer and former executive at B.F. Goodrich and Hematite.

    Today, his family is still trying to find a buyer for the technology.

    They’ve turned to Bart Van Comvoirt, an executive at a Waterloo engineering firm, to help do that. Commercializing Davison’s prized invention would be a final accomplishment in a remarkable life, he said.

    Davison and his wife Jean raised three kids, Mark, Tim and Sarah, on a hobby farm outside Arkell. The family kept bees, ran a woodlot, grew hay, and raised pigs and chickens.

    The garage was his workshop, filled with broken down lawn mowers, car parts, TVs and other gadgets in need of repair, and even a few leftover pieces from the scrapped Avro Arrow airplane.

    On the farm, Davison had the space to let his inventive mind run free. He was one of the first in the area to recycle his pool liner. He developed a way to use reverse osmosis to concentrate maple syrup.

    The inventor’s house was a model of reuse. Made of repurposed modular homes, he used scrap marble from Kitchener’s old city hall and wood from Guelph’s Cutten Club to finish the flooring. He filled the house with restored antiques.

    “Dad always had something on the go. He was driven like that. And he would sometimes drive everyone else around him crazy with his ideas,” said his son Mark, now an automotive engineer. “He was restless. He didn’t like to stay in one place for too long.”

    Davison learned to be resourceful as a boy growing up in Northern Ireland. Life in those early days was hard, Mark said. Davison’s father died when he was six. Money was tight. If he wanted a toy, he’d rebuild them from broken parts he’d found.

    In the Second World War, his Belfast home was bombed by the Nazis. Young Davison recalled climbing on the roof with his uncle to put out the flames. His mother, fearing for his safety, shipped him to the country where he worked on a dairy farm and learned the value of being self-reliant, Mark said.

    His first real job was as an apprentice tool and die maker in Belfast, earning about 75 cents a day. He went to night school to get an engineering diploma, then drifted from job to job in postwar Northern Ireland, learning plenty about manufacturing along the way.

    Davison had wanderlust. When he was offered a job to come to Canada at 23 and work on the Avro Arrow project, he jumped, taking a lead role in designing the airplane’s windscreen. After the project was killed in 1959, he returned to Belfast for another seven years of university.

    But Canada would eventually draw him back, and lead him to the government job that impacted so many others. Van Comvoirt, the man working to sell Davison’s harmonic engine, just hopes people realize how much impact he really had.

    “Those guys never get the recognition they deserve until people sit back and say ‘holy cow, look at what Ernie did’,” he said. “But by then, it’s too late.”
    Wretch 12 likes this.
    08-27-11 07:35 PM
  8. Wretch 12's Avatar
    Just read it all, thanks for sharing, he seemed like an amazing person, it's a shame about his demise.
    08-27-11 08:16 PM
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