BlackBerry founders consider takeover of smartphone maker

Oct. 11, 2013 at 1:00 AM
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WATERLOO, Ontario, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The two men who founded BlackBerry Ltd. say they may bid for the 92 percent of the struggling Canadian smartphone maker they don't already own.

Co-founder Mike Lazaridis, who was forced out as co-chief executive officer and vice chairman in January 2012, and Douglas Fregin, vice president for operations until 2007, said in a regulatory filing they hired Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and independent private equity investment firm Centerview Partners LLC as advisers.

"In light of [BlackBerry's] recent announcement that its board of directors has formed a special committee to explore strategic alternatives to enhance value and increase scale, the reporting persons are considering all available options with respect to their holdings of the shares, including, without limitation, a potential acquisition of all the outstanding shares of the issuer that they do not currently own, either by themselves or with other interested investors," the men said in a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Their filing comes amid increasing corporate interest in the company, which last month reported a nearly $1 billion quarterly loss and said it would slash 40 percent of its workforce after consumers largely rejected BlackBerry's new smartphones that were supposed to revitalize the smartphone pioneer.

BlackBerry was betting the devices would help it catch up with Apple Inc.'s iPhone and phones running on Google Inc.'s Android software.

Fairfax Investment Holdings Ltd. made a conditional, non-binding offer last month to take the company private by buying the 90 percent of BlackBerry shares it does not own for $9 each. The bid values the company at about $4.7 billion.

But investors and analysts are unconvinced Fairfax will be able to finance the offer, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported.

Lazaridis and Fregin aren't working with Fairfax, at least for now, people close to the matter told the newspapers.

Cerberus Capital Management LP, a private-equity firm known for investing in distressed companies, has asked for a non-disclosure agreement so it can get access to BlackBerry's confidential financial information ahead of a possible bid, those newspapers and the Financial Times said.

In addition, technology giants, including Google Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and German software company SAP AG, are reported eyeing BlackBerry or parts of the business or its assets, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail said.

It's not clear if any of these companies will bid.

Lazaridis and Fregin, who own a company that invests in quantum computing technology, had no immediate comment. BlackBerry declined to comment.

The two men, who have known each other since fifth grade, founded Research In Motion Ltd. in 1984, originally making bar code technology for film. The company, which introduced the first BlackBerry smartphone in 2000, changed its name to BlackBerry earlier this year.

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