BlackBerry co-founders could make run at acquiring company

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) co-founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin could decide to buy the company, according to a regulatory filing. The struggling smartphone maker is working with a consortium led by Fairfax Financial Holdings to take BlackBerry private in a $4.7 billion deal, but the firm can look for other suitors until Nov. 4.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lazaridis and Fregin bumped up their stake in BlackBerry to 8 percent and have engaged Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners, among other advisers, to explore a possible acquisition. The filing said Lazaridis and Fregin "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 consortium led by Fairfax Financial, BlackBerry's largest investor at around 10 percent, has signed a letter of intent to take BlackBerry private in a $9 per share deal that values BlackBerry at $4.7 billion. The companies have until Nov. 4 to conduct due diligence. BlackBerry's stock is currently trading at $8.20.

BlackBerry declined to comment on the Lazaridis-Fregin effort, and relayed its boilerplate statement on any potential deals: "The Special Committee, with the assistance of the Company's independent financial and legal advisors, is conducting a robust and thorough review of strategic alternatives. 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."

In September, before the Fairfax-led deal was announced, it was reported that Lazaridis was considering mounting a bid to take the company private in conjunction with several private equity firms. The reports, in both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which cited unnamed sources, said Lazaridis, who co-founded BlackBerry in 1984 with Fregin, had separately approached the Blackstone Group and the Carlyle Group about making an offer.

Skeptics will point out that, despite Lazaridis' continued faith in BlackBerry, it was he and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie who presided over the company while it lost market share to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. The Globe and Mail reported last month that what seemed to truly undo BlackBerry was the time it took for the company to build its BlackBerry 10 operating system on the QNX software it acquired in April 2010.

"RIM's senior management suffered from a truly epic case of founder's syndrome," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart wrote. "For years, people told RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis that what he was trying to do was impossible. RIM was successful anyway, and then financial analysts and the tech press switched to predicting that RIM would be crushed by Microsoft or Nokia. When the real wolf was at the door, Lazaridis and his co-CEO Jim Balsillie ignored it."

Meanwhile, AllThingsD reported that even members of the Swedish design firm The Astonishing Tribe, which BlackBerry acquired to help develop its BlackBerry 10 platform, left the company in January to form a new venture called Topp.

"As a point of pride, the key guys in BB10 all stuck around until the product shipped," Topp co-founder and CEO James Haliburton, formerly TAT innovation director and UX program manager at BlackBerry, told AllThingsD. "We are grateful for the time at both BB and TAT, the people we worked with were truly amazing, but it was time for us to take on new challenges."

In other BlackBerry news, Apple hosted a recruitment drive on Sept. 26, a short drive away from BlackBerry's Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters, the Financial Post reported. That was less than a week after BlackBerry announced it would cut 4,500 jobs, or 40 percent of its workforce. "Most positions will be based in Cupertino, CA," according to a LinkedIn invite sent to certain BlackBerry employees and obtained by the Financial Post. "Relocation and immigration assistance will be provided for candidates that are hired, as needed."

For more:
- see this SEC filing
- see this CNET article
- see this The Verge article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this separate AllThingsD article
- see this Financial Post article

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