BlackBerry co-founders considering bid for company

Thursday 17 October 2013 12.44
BlackBerry co-founders may make a bid for Canadian firm
BlackBerry co-founders may make a bid for Canadian firm

BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin are considering a bid to buy the struggling smartphone maker, according to a securities filing last night.

The move raises the prospect of an alternative to a $4.7 billion offer led by its top shareholder.

The filing did not indicate whether the pair was planning to join or to present an alternative to a tentative $9-a-share bid by a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings. Fairfax, which is headed by financier Prem Watsa, has not yet identified other members of the group.

Lazaridis and Fregin together control some 8% of BlackBerry, the filing said. That compares with roughly 10% controlled by Fairfax.

BlackBerry declined to comment specifically on the news, repeating an earlier statement that it is conducting a robust review of alternatives and would only say more if a deal is done or the strategic review is otherwise ended.

Investors have been skeptical the Fairfax offer will garner the financing needed, and analysts noted that Lazaridis' interest faces the same challenge because the founders, for now, do not have any funding lined up.

They believe both parties could look to secure financial backing from one or more of Canada's deep-pocketed pension funds.

A foreign buyer for Blackberry faces a stringent review under the national security clause of the Investment Canada Act, as BlackBerry's secure servers handle millions of confidential corporate and government emails every day.

Industry executives, lawyers and analysts say that could limit the pool of foreign entities that may be allowed to acquire all, or at least certain parts of the company.

In sign of investor skepticism, BlackBerry's stock has traded well below Fairfax's $9 offer price since the bid was announced it last month, days after BlackBerry warned it would report slumping sales, a big loss and job cuts.

News of the Lazaridis' interest pushed shares in the company a bit higher. The stock turned positive after the news and closed on Thursday up 1.1% on the Nasdaq. But it has fallen over 20% since the company warned on its earnings.

Lazaridis signed a confidentiality agreement with BlackBerry on Monday, according to the filing. If a takeover is successful, Lazaridis would become chairman, and Fregin would appoint a director, it says.

Lazaridis and Fregin together founded the company then known as Research In Motion in 1985. While Lazaridis was a driving force behind the technology behind the BlackBerry, Fregin played a more minor role.

He left the company as it grew into a powerhouse that produced what was then the must-have smartphone for professionals and politicians. Fregin recently teamed up with Lazaridis again to start Quantum Valley Investments to fund quantum physics and quantum computing initiatives.

Lazaridis served as co-CEO and co-chairman with Jim Balsillie, a marketing specialist who also stepped down from those roles last year as the company's outlook turned dire.

Its travails came to a head in August when BlackBerry put itself on the block after lacklustre sales for its new devices. It has struggled for years to compete with Apple popular iPhone and a range of devices using Google's Android operating system.

Sources have told Reuters that BlackBerry is in talks with Cisco Systems, Google and Germany's SAP among others, about selling them all, or parts of itself. The potential buyers have declined to comment.