BlackBerry to Go Private in $4.7B Deal

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

Financial analysts won’t have BlackBerry Ltd. to kick around anymore. The Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone vendor announced that a consortium led by its largest shareholder will purchase the company for $4.7 billion and will take BlackBerry private.

The group, led by Fairfax Financial Holdings, which has 10 percent of the company’s stock, will offer $9 per share in cash for the smartphone maker, about half a buck more than the company’s stocks were worth when trading was stopped pending the announcement of the buyout.

BlackBerry says the investors will have six weeks to conduct due diligence on the company, with the deal expected to close to take the company private by Nov. 4. In the meantime, BlackBerry can continue to entertain offers, but the Fairfax-led group will have the option to match any offers received.

Toronto-based Fairfax is led by Prem Watsa, who stepped down from BlackBerry’s board of directors last month as he sought to find a way for the struggling smartphone company to continue. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Watsa said the goal was to make sure the company stayed whole, and stayed in Canada. Although the investors in the consortium aside from Fairfax are choosing to remain anonymous at this point, Watsa told the newspapers that “a significant amount of the equity in the deal will come from Canada,” and that there will be no technology companies among the investors.

The buyout should give BlackBerry much-needed time to complete the radical re-organization and re-focusing that it set out on last week. Last Friday, the company confirmed it plans to lay off as much as 40 percent of its workforce, or 4,500 jobs, as it looks to exit the consumer smartphone market and focus on its the enterprise market.

BlackBerry was built on its business customers, the first device to bring e-mail on the go truly mainstream. But as it is has focused on building out its consumer and applications story with limited success over the years, its home turf in the enterprise has been transformed by the wave of BYOD, which means that fewer enterprises are assigning users a corporate-approved smartphone. However, with a simplified product lineup, a renewed focus on enterprise users’ concerns including security and manageability, and a greater focus on services in addition to devices, BlackBerry can still be an impressive niche player, particularly once away from Wall Street’s demands for growth at all costs.

The news that BlackBerry has finally found a way out comes just over a week after Michael Dell won his hard-fought battle to take Dell Inc. private, getting enough votes from shareholders to move forward on his plan to restructure the company and continue to build on its new position as an IT solutions company rather than its historic position as a PC vendor.