Mobile

BlackBerry passes on buyout offer, takes $1B investment, & dumps CEO Thorsten Heins

Above: BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins shows off the Z10 and Q10 BlackBerry 10 phones.

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

BlackBerry isn’t dead yet — and it’s not giving up without a fight.

The Canadian smartphone maker announced today that it’s raising a $1 billion investment from Fairfax Financial Holdings and other investors, and it’s also passing on the $4.7 billion buyout offer Fairfax made in September. Not surprisingly, embattled chief executive Thorsten Heins is out, replaced temporarily by former Sybase CEO John Chen, who will also serve as the executive director of BlackBerry’s board.

BlackBerry shares were down around 18 percent ($7.80) in pre-market trading at the time of this post.

The company says Fairfax will account for $250 million of the deal and that the new investment will be completed within two weeks. BlackBerry’s newest investors will pay $10 a share, $1 more than what Fairfax was offering in its buyout offer, and around 30 percent more than BlackBerry’s closing price on Friday. The deal values BlackBerry at around $6.25 billion.

“My take is that Fairfax is hedging its bets here,” said Jack Gold, principal analyst and founder of J. Gold Associates, in an email to VentureBeat. “If BlackBerry can turn around, the acquisition of 15% of the stock will bring it a good return. Further, if the company is acquired, the investment group has essentially valued it at a price where it can also get a good return. It wins either way.”

The news comes after BlackBerry announced in August that it would be exploring different strategies to revitalize its business, which included possibly breaking up the company or selling to another firm. I expected BlackBerry to try for something a bit more creative to save itself than a mere investment and executive shuffle, so it’s no surprise that investors don’t seem to have much faith in the deal.

BlackBerry announced a devastating earnings preview in September with an operating loss of around $965 million, 4,500 layoffs, and a shift away from the consumer smartphone market. The situation was so volatile, the company even cancelled its earnings call (that announcement came a few days after Fairfax’s buyout offer).

Heins, who previously served as BlackBerry’s COO (back when it was known as Research in Motion), stepped up as the company’s CEO in January 2012 after its two long-time co-CEOs stepped down. But while he was a fresh face, Heins seemed more of a figurehead leader for BlackBerry’s existing strategy (early on, he promised little change) rather than someone who was ready to completely revamp the company.

There wasn’t much hope that a new CEO could completely right the BlackBerry ship, but Heins was still surprisingly ineffective. Under his tenure, BlackBerry delayed its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system several times, leading to an overdue launch earlier this year with the half-baked Z10 phone.

The Z10 failed so spectacularly that it accounted for a whopping $934 million loss last quarter.

“More significant than the actual investment, in my opinion, is the change in management,” Gold said. “Thorsten Heins, whose tenure at the helm has been difficult to say the least, is being replaced by John Chen, a high tech executive with a proven track record and respect in the industry. He was chief executive at Sybase during the years it had a major impact (and substantial growth) in the mobile marketplace, and he subsequently sold the company to SAP. John Chen knows how to manage a mobile company, and perhaps more importantly, can make things happen in the industry.”

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