Lenovo CEO Reignites Speculation About BlackBerry Deal

Lenovo, which offers Android-based smartphones, may be in the market for the troubled device maker, according to Lenovo’s CEO.

Lenovo executives, less than two months after disavowing rumors that they were interested in buying struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry, reportedly are again raising that possibility.

Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing told a French financial newspaper in an interview that was published March 11 that a deal for BlackBerry “could possibly make sense,” though he would first have to assess the market and BlackBerry’s standing in it.

Yuanqing’s comment came amid a longer interview with the newspaper Les Echos that touched on everything from Lenovo’s plans in the PC business to China’s economic environment to the struggles of top PC makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Lenovo already offers a number of smartphones that run Google’s Android mobile operating system.

This is the second time in less than two months that an executive with Lenovo, the world’s second-largest PC maker, floated the idea of the company buying BlackBerry as a way of boosting its presence in the increasingly important smartphone space. In an interview with Bloomberg Jan. 23, Lenovo CFO Wong Wai Ming said the company was looking at a range of possible acquisitions, and that Research In Motion—which within less than two weeks would change its name to BlackBerry—was one of them.

"We are looking at all opportunities—RIM and many others,” the CFO said.

Like Yuanqing’s comment, Wong’s statement kicked off such widespread speculation about Lenovo buying RIM that within days Lenovo officials were backpedaling, saying in a statement that the CFO was making broad comments about the company’s acquisition strategy, and that “RIM was raised as a potential target by the journalist, and Mr. Wong repeatedly answered in a manner consistent with all of our previous statements on M&A. … Lenovo is very focused on growing its business, both organically and through M&A. When inorganic ideas arise, we explore them to see if there is a strategic fit."

Yuanqing’s comments put a boost into BlackBerry shares, according to reports, with Barron’s noting that the stock price climbed 11 percent.

The Lenovo CEO’s comments come at a time when BlackBerry is trying to gauge whether the long-delayed release of its BlackBerry 10 mobile platform and accompanying smartphones in January will help turn around the vendor’s falling fortunes.

BlackBerry at one time was the dominant player in the portable handset space, but in recent years has been lapped by Apple’s iPhone and smartphones running Google’s Android mobile operating system, creating a situation where BlackBerry is forced to compete with the likes of Nokia and Microsoft for the No. 3 spot in the mobile space.

The Z10, BlackBerry's first smartphone to run BlackBerry 10 platform, is on store shelves in more than 20 countries, though it’s not due to come to the United States this month; AT&T will reportedly start selling the device March 22. BlackBerry’s Q10 smartphone is slated to arrive several weeks behind the Z10.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins told a German newspaper Z10 was selling so well that it was changing the tone of a strategic review of the company that is underway. BlackBerry has brought in financial advisers to assess the company and develop some options for the company’s next move. There has been talk of BlackBerry selling its hardware business, licensing its software or selling the company outright.

BlackBerry is scheduled to release its fourth-quarter financial results March 28, when Heins is expected to give analysts and journalists an update on the strategic review. He has said in the past that much will depend on how well BlackBerry 10 is embraced.