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BlackBerry founders Lazaridis, Fregin consider buying struggling smartphone maker

| Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

TORONTO — BlackBerry founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin are weighing taking over the distressed smartphone company as it searches for a savior.

Lazaridis said Thursday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he and Fregin are looking to potentially acquire the 92 percent of the shares they don't own, either by themselves or with other interested parties. They have hired Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners to help them explore options.

The filing said Lazaridis and Fregin own 8 percent of BlackBerry.

Their announcement is the latest sign of investor interest in BlackBerry after the company started a review to consider a possible sale or breakup of its operations. The Canadian company announced last month that Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which owns close to 10 percent of the company, signed a letter of intent that “contemplates” buying BlackBerry for $9 a share, or $4.7 billion. Fairfax, BlackBerry's largest shareholder, is trying to attract other investors. Private equity firm Cerberus is also interested in looking at Blackberry's books as a step toward a possible bid.

The stock is trading below Fairfax's tentative offer on fears that the deal won't go through or that the final price will be lower. Shares of the company rose 9 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $8.20 on Thursday.

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, was once the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers. It could be so addictive that it was nicknamed “the CrackBerry.” But then came a new generation of competing smartphones, starting with Apple's iPhone in 2007.

The BlackBerry suddenly looked ancient. Its sales and market share shrank, and it lost billions in market value.

This year's much-delayed debut of the BlackBerry 10 system and the fancier devices that use it was supposed to rejuvenate the brand and lure customers. It did not work. Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry recently announced 4,500 layoffs, or 40 percent of its global workforce, and reported a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion.

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