BlackBerry: Now's the 'right time' to explore alternatives

The beleaguered smartphone maker says it will consider "strategic alternatives" that could range from joint ventures to an outright sale of its operations.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

BlackBerry is paving the way for a major change -- perhaps even routing itself toward a sale of the company.

The beleaguered smartphone maker said Monday that it has formed a special committee to explore "strategic alternatives" for its itself. The company specifically said that it's trying to "enhance value and increase scale in order to accelerate BlackBerry 10 deployment." However, BlackBerry noted in the next breath alternatives could range from joint ventures to partnerships to a sale of its operation to another firm.

"During the past year, management and the Board have been focused on launching the BlackBerry 10 platform and BES 10, establishing a strong financial position, and evaluating the best approach to delivering long-term value for customers and shareholders," said Timothy Dattels, chairman of the special committee, in a statement. "Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape, we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives."

That BlackBerry has formed the committee isn't necessarily surprising. The company had attempted to improve its chances of success in the mobile market earlier this year with the launch of BlackBerry 10, but that platform has failed to take off. And despite a somewhat strong fiscal quarter ended June 1 that saw the company generate over $3 billion in revenue, it still lost $84 million.

Meanwhile, investors have bolted. Since the beginning of this year, BlackBerry shares are down 18 percent and at a current price of $9.76, are way off from their 52-week high of $18.32.

Despite the challenges, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, who is also on the special committee, kept a brave face, saying in a statement today that his company still sees "compelling long-term opportunities for BlackBerry 10." He added that BlackBerry will continue to try to reduce costs as the committee works on alternatives.

It's possible that some companies might consider acquiring BlackBerry. For over a year, rumors have surfaced, suggesting companies are inquiring about the possibility of acquiring BlackBerry. It was believed last year, however, that Heins was unwilling to hold serious discussions on those matters because of his desire to see what would happen with BlackBerry 10.

Now that the fate of BlackBerry 10 seems clear, Heins could be more open to considering buyouts. And one of the companies considering such a move could be PC maker Lenovo. In an interview in March, that company's CEO Yang Yuanqing said that he'd be interested in acquiring BlackBerry. It's not clear whether he'd be interested in going for the handset maker this time around.

In addition to announcing the committee, BlackBerry said Monday that Prem Watsa, CEO of Fairfax Financial, the biggest BlackBerry shareholder, has stepped down from the board of directors. Watsa said that while his company has no plans to sell BlackBerry shares, conflicts could arise as the committee works through the alternatives.

This story has been updated throughout the morning.