BlackBerry (Nasdaq: BBRY) co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin said they may propose a takeover bid for the company, racing against the clock to rescue the Canadian smartphone maker that has struggled to find a savior.
The former BlackBerry executives have hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Centerview Partners LLC to help them study their options, according to a filing today. A bid for Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry would compete with a $4.7 billion offer from Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., the company’s biggest shareholder, which is seeking partners to help finance a buyout.
BlackBerry put itself up for sale after it failed to gain back market share with new products following years of losing ground to Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. The co-founders said their goal is “stabilizing and ultimately reinventing the company based on a plan developed by them.”
“It’s a tough business to be in,” said David Cockfield, a fund manager with Northland Wealth Management in Toronto. Lazaridis “has to find someone who has the belief and is willing to write him some large checks,” he said. His firm manages about C$225 million ($216 million), including a small amount of BlackBerry shares.
Fairfax, which has yet to name any of its partners or say it has secured financing, isn’t currently working with Lazaridis and Fregin, said a person with knowledge of the bidding who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. John Varnell, vice president of corporate development at Fairfax, didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. Lazaridis and Fregin weren’t available for interviews, said Mike Sitrick, their spokesman.
[BlackBerry operates a research and development office in the Research Triangle, N.C. area.]
A special committee of BlackBerry’s board continues to review its options, Lisette Kwong, a spokeswoman for BlackBerry, said in an e-mail.
“We do not intend to disclose further developments with respect to the process until we approve a specific transaction or otherwise conclude the review of strategic alternatives,” she said.
BlackBerry rose 1.1 percent to $8.20 at the close in New York, leaving it 8.9 percent below Fairfax’s $9-a-share proposal. The co-founders together control 8 percent of BlackBerry’s shares, the filing said. Toronto-based Fairfax has a 9.9 percent stake.
BlackBerry agreed to pay Fairfax a fee of 30 cents a share, or $157 million, if it strikes a better agreement with another buyer. The breakup fee rises to 50 cents a share, or about $262 million, if the smartphone maker and Fairfax sign a definitive transaction.
Under its agreement with BlackBerry, Fairfax has until Nov. 4 to make a definitive bid for the company.
Lazaridis, the former co-chief executive officer, and Fregin, its ex-vice president of operations, have been friends since the fifth grade and co-founded BlackBerry in 1984, while they were engineering students.
The company pioneered the market for wireless-data devices, turning millions of users into e-mail addicts pecking away at their “CrackBerry” keyboards. Then Apple and Samsung ushered in the age of the touch-screen smartphone, and Lazaridis and his team were slow to adapt to the shift in consumer preferences.
Since quitting the top job at BlackBerry and then leaving its board in March, Lazaridis has focused his attention on quantum computing and nanotechnology, the science and technology of things approaching the size of an atom. He and Fregin now own Quantum Valley Investments, which focuses on developing quantum- computing technology.
Fregin left BlackBerry in 2007. Thorsten Heins became CEO of the company last year, and Lazaridis stayed on as vice chairman until May.
While Lazaridis and Fregin say they have a turnaround plan for BlackBerry, the company is now more open to a breakup amid concerns that Fairfax may be unable to line up funding or partners for its takeover offer, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Companies such as SAP AG, Cisco Systems Inc. and Samsung, which were approached last week by BlackBerry advisers, have indicated they’re only interested in parts of the company, people familiar with the discussion said.
A breakup would let parties bid for BlackBerry’s most valuable pieces, such as its patents or enterprise network, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
“If this is your company and you’re starting to see that it might be a real option this thing gets broken up and fed to the wolves, that’s a tough ending,” said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners LP. “If anyone is going to see value in this company, it would be Lazaridis and his partner.”