NEWS

BlackBerry sale on hold, but Fairfax to invest

11/04/2013 08:28 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 10:52 EST
Fairfax Financial's $4.7-billion deal to purchase BlackBerry is on hold, but the company has agreed to invest in the troubled smartphone maker as it restructures. 

BlackBerry plans to raise $1 billion US in capital to see it over a restructuring and to replace its chief executive and some directors, it said in a release this morning.​

BlackBerry plans a private placement of convertible debentures, with Fairfax to invest $250 million US and unnamed institutional investors subscribing to the rest.

The new deal with Fairfax involves CEO Thorsten Heins stepping down and Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa taking on a new title of lead director and chair of compensation.

The title indicates that Watsa, a former member of the BlackBerry board who stepped away this summer when it announced it was looking for buyers, intends to take an active role in restructuring the company.

Heins was named CEO of the company — then called RIM — in January 2012, but hopes that he could restore its dominance in the smartphone market were short-lived. He presided over the botched launch of the Z10 phone, which BlackBerry revealed sold poorly.

The company took a writedown of close to $1 billion on the phones this quarter and has laid off close to 4,500 people.

The BlackBerry board welcomed the Fairfax offer as a significant vote of confidence in the company. 

"Fairfax is a long-time supporter, investor and partner to BlackBerry and, with this investment, reinforces its deep commitment to the future success of this company," Watsa said in a statement.

The extent of that commitment is revealed in the valuation of the company at $10 a share,  a 28.7% premium to the closing price of BlackBerry common shares on Nov. 1, 2013, that is mentioned in the terms of the debenture.

Leadership in the restructuring is being passed to John S. Chen, former CEO of Sybase Inc., who is to be appointed executive chair of the BlackBerry board

"BlackBerry is an iconic brand with enormous potential - but it's going to take time, discipline and tough decisions to reclaim our success. I look forward to leading BlackBerry in its turnaround and business model transformation for the benefit of all of its constituencies, including its customers, shareholders and employees," Chen said in a statement.

BlackBerry had been shopping for other potential buyers, and Fairfax Financial, the investment firm that made a conditional $4.7-billion offer for BlackBerry in September, had set Nov. 4 as the end of its due diligence period.

Bloomberg is reporting that Fairfax had trouble lining up financing for the deal, worth $9 a share.  

In the meantime, BlackBerry has been scouring the technology and investment communities for any other interest.

Companies who have considered a bid run the gamut, with reports claiming Facebook, Microsoft and Chinese computer maker Lenovo have all taken a peek at BlackBerry's finances.

One group of potential bidders was BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis, who filed documents with regulators outlining an interest in trying to rescue the company. Laziridis was working with former company CFO Doug Fregin and is reported to have backing from Qualcomm and Cerberus Capital.

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