BlackBerry pulls itself off market
TORONTO — BlackBerry has abandoned its bid to sell itself and is replacing its chief executive.
Fairfax Financial, BlackBerry's largest shareholder with a 10 percent stake, said on Monday it won't buy the struggling smartphone company and take it private. Instead, Fairfax and other investors will inject $1 billion as part of a revised investment proposal.
BlackBerry said CEO Thorsten Heins is stepping down. Heins took over in early 2012 when the company lost billions in market value, but he failed to turn the company around this year with the launch of BlackBerry's new devices.
Former Sybase Chief Executive John Chen was appointed chairman of BlackBerry's board of directors and will serve as interim CEO. Fairfax head Prem Watsa has been named a board member.
BlackBerry announced in September that Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. signed a letter of intent that contemplated buying BlackBerry for $9 a share, or $4.7 billion, and taking it private. Fairfax said then it wouldn't increase its 10 percent stake and the company went about trying to attract other investors.
Watsa said Fairfax did due diligence and worked with a consulting company that recommended that taking BlackBerry private with borrowed money was not the way to go.
“To load this company with too much debt was not appropriate,” Watsa told The Associated Press. “We didn't want it leveraged. We didn't even bother to go there. Once we decided that a leveraged buy-out with high debt was not appropriate, we didn't push it any further. We backed off completely.”
Watsa said BlackBerry needs financial flexibility. “We probably could do it, but we decided not to add high-yield debt to the company's capital structure,” he said.
He said five or six investors had been interested in a buyout.
The founders of BlackBerry, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, partnered with New York investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP and cellphone chip maker Qualcomm Inc. on a rival bid for BlackBerry, two people familiar with the bid said. The people, who were not authorized to talk publicly about it, said the bidders wanted more time and more information to put a proposal together but were told the company was being taken off the market.
Shares of BlackBerry plunged 16.4 percent to $6.50 on the Nasdaq.
Chen said he'll be looking for a CEO with a strong software and services background. He noted that BlackBerry Messenger, the popular messaging application, has been downloaded by more than 20 million users since it became available on Google's Android and Apple's iOS platforms.
“I'd like to find somebody to help me monetize that,” Chen told the AP.
Chen said a solid team is in place, but its members need to focus. “Maybe I can help that. More of a transitional thinking of we're really not in phones but we're in phones for software, for services,” Chen said.
Chen's emphasis on software could mean the company might ultimately get out of selling smartphones.
Chen said he wants to focus on business users.
Watsa praised Chen's work turning around Sybase, an enterprise software data management company. Chen was chairman and CEO from 1998 until the company was acquired in 2010 by SAP AG.
“He joined in 1998, and the company was going through similar problems. The stock price was down 90 percent, four years of losses. John joined them and had one of the best track records that I have seen,” Watsa said.
Watsa said he remains a fan of Heins. “I think Thorsten did a terrific job given the hand he had been dealt,” he said.
BGC analyst Colin Gillis said the failure to complete a successful sale was not an unexpected outcome for the market because the stock was trading well below the possible $9 bid price.
“They never had any money beyond the Fairfax money,” Gillis said. “It's an under-$5 billion market cap company with $2 billion in cash, you put up $1 billion, and you couldn't get the rest?”
The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, had been the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and showed that phones can handle much more than email and phone calls. In the years since, BlackBerry Ltd. has been hammered by competition from the iPhone as well as Android-based rivals.
This year's much-delayed launch 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.
Although BlackBerry was once Canada's most valuable company with a market value of $83 billion in June 2008, the stock has plummeted to less than $7 from over $140 a share. That gives it a market value of about $3.5 billion.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Energy sector adjusts to global oil plummet
- Real estate union: Howard Hanna buys Langholz Wilson Ellis
- Agriculture prospects envisioned in Cuba
- Kim Komando: Can you get a virus on your smartphone?
- ‘Staff Pick’ is golden ticket on Kickstarter
- Mind the time: Optimize last-minute shopping
- Drought opens Texas ranchers’ eyes to income options
- Makers of wine corks have lost ground to screw tops
- Diane Stafford: Consider digital footprint
- 3 tips to use up health account funds
- ‘Cause for Paws’ telethon helps dogs find homes