Ex-Apple chief Sculley may eye BlackBerry again

By GERRY HARRINGTON, United Press International  |  Dec. 4, 2013 at 1:11 AM
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Ex-Apple Inc. chief John Sculley says he likes new BlackBerry chief John Chen's open letter but may eye the Canadian firm again if Chen's turnaround plan fails.

Chen, who joined the struggling smartphone maker as interim chief executive officer and executive chairman a month ago after talks to sell the company collapsed, did with his letter "exactly what strong leaders are expected to do in a crisis," Sculley told United Press International.

"He sent a clear message to all BlackBerry stakeholders that he has a plan with enough detail to build confidence he knows what he is doing. I'm impressed," Sculley said.

"The question still lingers," Sculley added: "Is his plan the best plan to unlock shareholder value?"

Chen, who acknowledged in his Monday letter "BlackBerry is not for everyone," said the once-dominant innovative company in the smartphone market would return to its core business -- corporate, government and other "enterprise" customers.

"We're going back to our heritage and roots -- delivering enterprise-grade, end-to-end mobile solutions," he said in his letter, pointing out BlackBerry would serve enterprises whether their phones and operating systems were made by BlackBerry Ltd. or other companies.

Chen -- widely credited with saving California enterprise software and services company Sybase Inc. from bankruptcy before it was sold to Germany's SAP AG for $5.8 billion -- said BlackBerry would focus on four areas: handsets, enterprise mobile management solutions, the popular BlackBerry Messenger service, and the company's proprietary embedded QNX operating system that undergirds the BlackBerry PlayBook mini-tablet computer and BlackBerry 10 line of phones.

The BlackBerry 10 phones, introduced this year, were supposed to be BlackBerry's salvation, but sales fell flat.

"And, just as important, we will continue to invest in enterprise and security related R&D during our restructuring period," Chen said, referring to the initials for research and development.

Sculley, a businessman, entrepreneur and high-tech investor, ran Apple from 1983 to 1993. During his leadership, sales at the company known at the time as Apple Computer Inc. increased to $8 billion from $800 million.

He expressed an interest in bidding for BlackBerry last month when the Waterloo, Ontario, company was on the market.

Sculley told UPI in an interview he has a great deal of respect for Chen.

"I'm assuming that he will be successful" in his plans to reposition BlackBerry, Sculley said.

"But if for some reason things don't work out, and the company is interested in having other people look at it, we would probably go back and revisit it," he said.

"The strategic reasons we were thinking of for our plan, we think, would probably still make sense," said Sculley, a board member of enterprise mobile software company OpenPeak Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla.

Sculley is also an investor in the 11-year-old firm, which has about 130 employees in the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

OpenPeak is part of a new wave of vendors seeking to capitalize on a growing "bring your own device," or BYOD, trend, in which companies let employees use their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops at work, rather than the office equipment.

The practice often saves companies money, increases productivity and appeals to employees who prefer using their personal devices to those selected by a company's information technology team, an IBM Corp. study found.

OpenPeak, which helps companies manage business data on personal devices and ensure its security, has a contractual relationship with the BlackBerry Enterprise Service division and has worked with its team members, Sculley told UPI.

"We knew they were a very competent group," he said.

"Our interest in [considering a bid for] BlackBerry was that, while we already have a major relationship with AT&T and a relationship with BlackBerry, we were intrigued by the 675 wireless carriers that BlackBerry has relationships with through the BES organization around the world," he said.

"We said, 'Gee, if we were to put those businesses together, we could dramatically scale the expansion of our OpenPeak technology and it would create a very valuable business, we felt," Sculley told UPI.

"We also felt the device business needed to be uncoupled from the BES business," he said. "So that's where our strategy would be different than what John Chen is doing."

In his exploration of a BlackBerry bid, Sculley and partners talked with "major pension funds, mutual funds and private-equity funds, and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the strategy we had," he said.

"We felt pretty confident that if the auction had proceeded, we would have had the possibility of being successful," he said.

BlackBerry told UPI it did not comment "on rumors or speculation."

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