/// What Does Prem Watsa See in BlackBerry?

September 24, 2013  |  All Things Digital


Chris Hughes | © University of Waterloo, Graphics, Photo/Imaging With the announcement of its proposed $4.7 billion takeover bid, Fairfax Financial Holdings and its chairman, Prem Watsa, answered the long-running question, “Who would ever buy BlackBerry?” But in doing so it posed a new one as well: Why? And that’s not a particularly easy question to answer either. Just what does Watsa see in the collapsing smartphone pioneer, which just days ago announced a nearly $1 billion shortfall in second-fiscal-quarter earnings and plans to sack 40 percent of its workforce? Something that few others seem to be able to visualize — a long-term play in which BlackBerry successfully reinvents itself? Or is this bid simply a last ditch effort to put a floor beneath BlackBerry’s tumbling share price in the hopes of enticing other potential buyers and saving Fairfax’s investment in the company? In a Monday statement announcing Fairfax’s offer, Watsa said it was the former, describing the move as one that “will open an exciting new private chapter for BlackBerry.” In that sense, the deal is simply the latest manifestation of Watsa’s faith in what he once described as “Canada’s greatest technology company.” As Watsa wrote in a March letter to Fairfax Financial shareholders , “The brand name, a security system second to none, a distribution network across 650 telecom carriers worldwide, a 79 million subscriber base, enterprise customers accounting for 90 percent of the Fortune 500, almost exclusive usage by governments in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., a huge original patent portfolio, an outstanding new operating system developed by QNX and $2.9 billion in cash with no debt, are all formidable strengths as BlackBerry makes its comeback!” But that was more than six months ago, and in the time since, BlackBerry has slipped deep into the mud that’s been sucking at its boots since it first dismissed the iPhone and Android as credible threats to its business. Sure, the company does have some potentially valuable assets in its patent portfolio and secure messaging platform, BlackBerry Messenger. And there’s a few billion in cash and investments as well. But BlackBerry is hardly a company poised for a comeback. These days, it’s a sadly diminished pioneer sliding inexorably toward irrelevance. So, again, does Watsa really believe he can take BlackBerry private and recapture some of its former glory? Certainly possible — if he continues to hold the same long-term view of the company he’s always had. “Is [BlackBerry] going to turn around in three months, six months, nine months? No,” he said last year. “But if you’re looking four, five years. … We make investments over four or five years.” Maybe that’s Watsa’s game here as well, assuming Fairfax can actually secure the financing it needs to acquire BlackBerry. Or maybe he’s planning to sell it for parts at some point down the line

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What Does Prem Watsa See in BlackBerry?


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