BlackBerry Officially Exploring 'Strategic Alternatives'

BlackBerry confirmed that it's exploring selling the company, possible ventures, partnerships and alliances, and other options.

BlackBerry had formed a Special Committee to "explore strategic alternatives to enhance value and increase scale in order to accelerate BlackBerry 10 deployment," the company announced in an Aug. 12 statement

Such alternatives, it added, "could include, among others, possible joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances, a sale of the company or other possible transactions."

The statement follows an Aug. 9 report from the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, that said BlackBerry has become open to the idea of going private, which would give it "breathing room to fix its problems out of the public eye."

The Special Committee is made up of CEO Thorsten Heins, board Chairwoman Barbara Stymiest and board members Richard Lynch (formerly of Verizon) and Bert Nordberg (formerly CEO of Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications). It will be chaired by Timothy Dattels, a partner with TPG Capital.

"Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape," Dattels said in the statement, "we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives."

The announcement shouldn't be heard as a death knell—a term that haunted the company before its launch of the BlackBerry 10 platform—Gartner Principal Research Analyst Bill Menezes told eWEEK. "But it certainly makes it a lot harder to convince people to buy their product."

Menezes says BlackBerry has a "good cash pile" and isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But BlackBerry does need to figure out how to leverage its success, particularly its strong position in developing markets.

"How does that success play out, as Samsung and Apple and others go after BlackBerry's share in those markets as well?" said Menezes.

BlackBerry's Strategic Review

In May 2012 BlackBerry—then still known as Research In Motion—announced, deep into a business update, that it had hired J. P. Morgan Securities and RBC Capital Markets to perform a "strategic review" and "evaluate the relative merits and feasibility of various financial strategies, including opportunities to leverage the BlackBerry platform through partnerships, licensing opportunities and strategic business model alternatives."

Still, Heins repeatedly insisted that no decision would be made until the BlackBerry 10 platform and new smartphones were introduced and the company had a strong sense of how the long-awaited products were faring.

On Jan.30, BlackBerry—announcing its name change the same day—introduced BB10, the Z10 and the Q10, along with news that Alicia Keys was the company's new creative director.

The early response was positive and strong. In the United Kingdom, where the Z10 went on sale the next day, the device was said to have sold out in many locations.

The Z10 also received a relatively strong welcome in Canada, where in a Feb. 6 statement BlackBerry announced its "best day ever" sales on its home turf. Weeks later, Heins told a German newspaper that sales were shifting the tone of the strategic review.

The Z10 didn't arrive in the United States until late March though, and when it did it was met by temperate sales—BlackBerry issued no statement, as it had following other launches.

On March 28, it announced fiscal fourth-quarter 2013 results that included sales of approximately 1 million Z10 smartphones. The following quarter, it shipped 6.8 million smartphones total, 2.7 million of which were BB10-running devices. In a June 28 statement, Heins said the company was "still in the early stages" of BlackBerry 10's launch.

In the Aug. 12 statement, Heins offered, "We continue to see compelling long-term opportunities for BlackBerry 10, we have exceptional technology that customers are embracing, we have a strong balance sheet and we are pleased with the progress that has been made in our transition."

He added that the company will continue to reduce costs and drive efficiencies and deployments of BlackBerry 10 smartphones and the BES 10 enterprise solution.

With the announcement of the Special Committee, Prem Watsa, chairman and CEO of Fairfax Financial, said he was resigning from the BlackBerry board, calling it the "appropriate" thing to do in light of potential conflicts that might arise. Fairfax Financial is BlackBerry's largest shareholder and said it has "no current intention of selling its shares."