BlackBerry confirms job cuts, denies U.S. sales staff has been 'gutted'

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) confirmed that it cut a small number of sales jobs, but denied reports of wide-ranging cuts that have "gutted" the company's sales team.

The Wall Street Journal reported that BlackBerry laid off "several dozen members" of its U.S. sales force. BlackBerry spokeswoman Lisette Kwong confirmed that a "small number of employees were laid off" on Monday, and explained to FierceWireless that the company is "moving a small number of U.S.-focused sales roles that were based in Canada to the U.S. to be more closely aligned with our customers."

However, Kwong disputed a report from the Canadian technology blog Cantech Letter that, according to an unnamed source, BlackBerry laid off "more than half" of its sales force and that its consumer sales force was basically "gone" and that its enterprise sales force had been "gutted."

Kwong said both of those characterizations were incorrect. "As previously stated, we are in the second phase of our transformation plan," she said. "As part of this transformation, BlackBerry will continually evaluate its organization--from top to bottom--to ensure we have the right people, with the right skills in the right locations to drive new opportunities in mobile computing."

The cuts come after a Journal report in late August that said sales of one of the company's two flagship products, the Q10 with the firm's iconic physical keyboard, are essentially in the gutter. The Journal also recently reported that BlackBerry hopes to conclude a sale of the company by November.

Likely in response to sluggish sales, in late August the company's board formed a special committee to explore "strategic alternatives to enhance value and increase scale in order to accelerate BlackBerry 10 deployment." The possibilities for the company include joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances or a sale of BlackBerry, the company said.

Reports continue to swirl that the company could be taken private, in a bid led by Prem Watsa, chairman and CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings, which holds a 9.9 percent stake in BlackBerry. Watsa resigned in August from BlackBerry's board due to "potential conflicts that may arise" during the company's strategic review process.

According to reports in the Globe and Mail and the Guardian, Fairfax has approached some of Canada's largest pension plans as part of a buyout bid, but so far none has signed on. The reports, citing unnamed sources, said that so far the funds and pension plans remain skeptical of BlackBerry's turnaround prospects, with a source telling the Guardian that the proposal is still "an airy-fairy, 'what if' kind of thing." The big funds, including Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, declined to comment, the Guardian said.

For more:
- see Cantech Letter post
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this CNET article
- see this Globe and Mail article
- see this Guardian article

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