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Lazaridis to keep BlackBerry stake, focus on new venture

By Euan Rocha

TORONTO (Reuters) - BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis said on Thursday he has no plans to sell his stake in the smartphone maker even as he steps down from the board to focus on a new quantum computing investment fund.

BlackBerry, formerly Research In Motion, announced the former co-CEO's departure from the board on Thursday as it reported its first quarterly earnings since launching its make-or-break new BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

"I'm really proud of what we built together at RIM, and I believe I'm leaving it in good hands, and remain one of its largest shareholders," said Lazaridis in an interview.

Asked whether he will hold on to that investment, Lazaridis said he has no plans to do otherwise. He owns 5.7 percent of the Waterloo, Ontario-based company, according to Thomson Reuters data from December 31, 2012.

Lazaridis, a silver-haired engineer who was born in Turkey, immigrated to Canada with his Greek parents as a child, and attended university in Waterloo, where he co-founded RIM in 1984.

Lazaridis also offered new details on his exit from the executive suite - he and co-CEO Jim Balsillie stepped down in January 2012, as the company bled market share to Apple Inc's iPhone and phones based on Google Inc's Android operating system, and its BlackBerry 10 ran behind schedule.

Lazaridis said he went to the board that month and asked them to make Thorsten Heins chief executive.

"I was asked to reconsider my decision to give up the CEO post, but I promised the board that I would assist Thorsten and his team in the completion of the development of BB10," he said. "I believe I've now fulfilled my commitment to the board."

Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, RIM's co-founder, announced their new $100 million Quantum Valley Investments fund earlier this month.

Those who do time-consuming calculations have for years longed for quantum computers, which could theoretically complete tasks many orders of magnitude faster than a conventional machine by tapping some peculiar properties of matter to do many calculations simultaneously.

Lazaridis, a physics buff who used some of his fortune to found the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, said he sees the quantum computing field "producing opportunities in the near-term." He said the fund has started making investments, but gave no details.

"This is ground-breaking work," he said. "We have the resources to put us in a position to help them fulfill the potential of these breakthroughs."

(Writing by Allison Martell; Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Gunna Dickson)

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