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What's next for BlackBerry?

A sell-off of parts of BlackBerry has been rumored for some time

September 23, 2013 04:50 PM ET

Computerworld - The group trying to buy BlackBerry for $4.7 billion could break up the company, wiping out its smartphone division while preserving BlackBerry's secure network services used by large enterprises globally. But one analyst said he hopes that's not the case.

"I don't believe that breaking up the company is the right way to go," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "I believe there's more value in keeping the three parts -- devices, services and collaboration -- intact, which works better for longer term value."

Gold conceded that BlackBerry "still faces a huge mountain to climb to get back into the device marketplace, given the precipitous decline in sales."

On Monday, a consortium led by Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto offered to buy Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry for $4.7 billion, taking the company private in a deal slated to close by Nov. 4.

On Friday, BlackBerry warned that it expects to report nearly $1 billion in losses for its second fiscal quarter and would cut 4,500 jobs from a workforce of more than 12,000.

Despite Gold's hopes for BlackBerry, another analyst, Carolina Milanesi of Gartner, said the group buying BlackBerry has little recourse. "What else could Fairfax do other than sell it off in parts?" Milanesi said. "[Fairfax has] no knowledge or assets to bring to the table, so how could they address the challenges that BlackBerry was facing?"

Gartner analyst Bill Menezes said Fairfax should focus instead on creating "sustainable, stand-alone businesses from the company's services business and patent portfolio." As cruel as it might sound, he added, Fairfax or another potential buyer should "jettison [or] close down" BlackBerry's smartphone operation, or perhaps just "retain in much smaller scale a niche handset business."

Menezes said the planned $1 billion write-down of smartphones that Blackberry announced on Friday shows that "the marketplace has moved on from BlackBerry handsets and isn't coming back in any meaningful way."

Fairfax officials did not respond to a request to comment on plans for BlackBerry. Fairfax is BlackBerry's largest shareholder and controls 10% of the phone maker's stock. Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa, citing a potential conflict of interest, resigned from the BlackBerry board when a special committee was formed to look into a possible sale of BlackBerry in August.

Almost two weeks ago, reports surfaced that said potential bidders for BlackBerry were only interested in parts of the business and not the company's smartphones, such as the Q10 and Z10. Instead, bidders from private equity firms were said to be mostly interested in the BlackBerry 10 operating system that powers the company's smartphones, along with selected patents related to keyboards.



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