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Back to the future: BlackBerry founders consider buying the beleaguered company

Back to the future: BlackBerry founders consider buying the beleaguered company

Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin own 8 per cent of BlackBerry and are weighing a purchase of all or part of the company's shares

BlackBerry's co-founders, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, are working with advisors to explore buying all or part of the ailing BlackBerry, according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The Schedule 13 D filing, posted online, says that the two men have agreed to work exclusively with each other "with respect to any potential acquisition of all or a part" of BlackBerry.

They jointly own nearly 8 per cent of BlackBerry, or about 41.6 million of the 524 million common shares that BlackBerry reported it owned in March.

Their 8 per cent compares to the 10 per cent owned by Prem Watsa, head of Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto. Fairfax has struck a preliminary deal with BlackBerry to buy BlackBerry for $4.7 billion and take it private.

Lazaridis and Fregin have hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Centerview Partners "to assist with their review of strategic alternatives with respect to the shares," the filing states. The filing also names Lazaridis and Fregin as legal representatives of investment holding companies under the names of Ontario Inc. and Ontario Ltd. that are party to the agreement to explore buying BlackBerry.

Lazaridis and Fregin are officially listed as retired in the filing, but also recently co-founded Quantum Valley Investments, a venture fund.

BlackBerry was founded in 1984 and Lazaridis served in various roles as president, co-CEO and co-chairman in subsequent years. Fregin formerly served as vice president of operations. In 2011, Lazaridis stepped down as co-CEO of BlackBerry along with then co-CEO Jim Balsillie; both were replaced by current CEO Thorsten Heins. Lazaridis stayed on as vice chairman at BlackBerry until earlier this year.

The news of the interest in BlackBerry by Lazaridis and Fregin comes after months of uncertainty for the company. BlackBerry recently reported a Q3 loss of nearly $US1 billion, attributed mostly to slack sales of the Z10 smartphone and the planned layoff of 4500 workers of a total force of 12,500.

In the past week, BlackBerry reportedly asked six major technology companies to consider buying all or parts of the company. BlackBerry has not commented on that report or the joint bid by Lazaridis and Fregin.

Analysts have said the smartphone business at BlackBerry is essentially worthless, and that it could cost up to $US2 billion to shut that portion of the company down. Meanwhile, the secure network is valued at up to $US4.5 billion and BlackBerry 'spatents might be worth $3 billion. BlackBerry has more than $US3 billion in cash and investments as well.

Reaction to the news Lazaridis might buy BlackBerry brought some derision. "Wouldn't that be a bit like Tom Landry coming back to coach the Dallas Cowboys? He won two Super Bowls, but the last few years with him at the helm were pretty ugly," said Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner.


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