BlackBerry sale collapses at last minute
Shares in BlackBerry collapsed to their lowest level in a decade after the smartphone maker abandoned hopes of finding a buyer and drew up a radical new investment scheme instead.
The ailing company had planned to sell itself to its biggest shareholder, Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings, but the prospect of a rescue deal receded as Fairfax struggled to raise the funds needed to support its $9-a-share bid.
BlackBerry has now pegged its survival hopes on raising $1bn from institutional investors, including Fairfax, through a private placement of convertible debentures – a type of unsecured bond. Fairfax will invest up to $250m.
The smartphone maker will also replace its chief executive, Thorsten Heins, who spent two years trying to revive the company before admitting defeat and trying to find a buyer.
He will be replaced on an interim basis by John Chen, the former head of software firm Sybase, who is also joining BlackBerry’s board as executive chair, in charge of “strategic direction, strategic relationships and organisational goals”.
Mr Chen’s appointment was seen as a signal that BlackBerry would give up on its handset business, and focus on providing secure software for businesses – one of the company’s key strengths and the area where Mr Chen has most experience. However, the turnaround veteran said on Monday that he had no intention of shutting down BlackBerry’s devices unit.
"I know we have enough ingredients to build a long-term sustainable business. I have done this before and seen the same movie before,” he told Reuters. He added that he would shake up BlackBerry’s management team, with a slew of internal promotions and new appointments from outside the company.
Barbara Stymiest, chair of BlackBerry's board, said the new investment plan represented “a significant vote of confidence in BlackBerry and its future by this group of pre-eminent, long-term investors”.
Not everyone was convinced, however. Shares in the Canadian smartphone maker tumbled to as low as $6.40 after the Nasdaq stock exchange opened in New York – their lowest price in a decade. They recovered slightly, but were still down more than $1.1, or 14pc, to $6.68 in lunchtime trading.
BlackBerry’s new $1bn investment plan follows a tumultuous period for the company, which was once Canada’s corporate crown jewel.
The business, founded as Research In Motion in 1984, used to account for more than half of the smartphone market, thanks to its robust devices with their “qwerty” keyboards. However, it was late introducing touch-screen mobiles, and its market share had slumped to just 1pc in the third quarter of this year amid intensifying competition from Apple and Samsung.
BlackBerry rebuffed offers of partnerships with technology giants such as IBM and Microsoft in the hopes that it could effect a successful turnaround, but Mr Heins finally raised the white flag and put the business up for sale in August.
A month later, the company chalked up losses of $965m and announced it was laying off 4,500 staff – nearly 40pc of its global workforce.
Fairfax, whose founder Prem Watsa used to sit on BlackBerry’s board, offered the most credible prospect of a rescue offer. However, the smartphone maker continued to court other suitors while Fairfax tried to raise the money for its bid.
Lenovo, the Chinese technology giant, and Cerberus, an investment firm backed by two BlackBerry founders, both considered buying all or parts of Blackberry. According to reports, Facebook was also interested but did not proceed with an offer.