The question facing Thorsten Heins is a tough one. He was hired to save BlackBerry from near certain death as it sank beneath the onslaught of newer, but not necessarily better, technology.
But he could instead be the CEO who steers this once great wireless company on its final voyage, where it could be beached and cut up for scrap, just like old oil tankers that are broken up on the beaches of Bangladesh.
Ship breaking (or ship recycling, as it's sometimes called by the politically correct) is a nasty business in which ships that can no longer be sailed economically are stripped bare of all fixtures and equipment that can be resold until all that's left is the steel hull that is cut up for scrap metal.
While BlackBerry won't be sent to Bangladesh for recycling, the eventual end for the company's millions of customers and tens of thousands of workers and partners isn't likely to seem much better. If Google, SAP or Cisco gain control of the Canadian wireless maker, the result will almost certainly be the same. The company would be broken up into its component parts, the sum of which may be worth more than the whole.
Of course, that's not the only possible outcome for BlackBerry. The company has already signed a $4.7 billion deal with Fairfax Holdings that would privatize and restructure BlackBerry, but keep it intact, while the company gets the time it needs away from the harsh market spotlight that follows public companies. Fairfax has until Nov. 4 to perform its due diligence before acquiring BlackBerry.
But just because there's a deal on the table doesn't mean that BlackBerry can't be broken up and sold. BlackBerry's Special Committee can decide that that the company is worth more to investors by breaking it up, selling its most valuable parts and then simply shutting down what's left.
Breaking up the company would effectively abandon customers and many employees, if only because the secure networking that BlackBerry has created doesn't require a lot of people to run it. The other part that is most valuable—the company's patent portfolio—doesn't require anyone.
What about the handset business? Taken as hardware, pure and simple, BlackBerry doesn't offer much. A lot of companies make smartphones, after all. And there's really not a lot about BlackBerry's phones that's unique enough to entice a potential buyer to acquire the handset business to keep marketing BlackBerry smartphones.
But is this one instance where BlackBerry may in fact be worth more as a whole rather than just as spare parts? Perhaps. What BlackBerry presents to the world is an ecosystem that provides a secure messaging system that's valuable to enterprise and government users.