Palm gets bailout from Bono's private equity firm

Former head of Apple's iPod division to join board

Palm Inc.'s financial future looked a little more secure today as private equity firm Elevation Partners LP said it will pump $325 million into the mobile device manufacturer.

In recent months, rumors have swirled that Palm would be acquired by either Motorola Inc. or Nokia Corp. as the company faces increasingly aggressive competition in the smart phone market.

The recapitalization plan will see Elevation take a 25% equity stake in Palm, buying a new series of convertible preferred stock. The conversion price will be $8.50 per share, a premium of around 16% compared with the implied post-distribution price over the last 10 trading days. Elevation is a $1.9 billion private-equity firm and one of its five partners is Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock band U2. The investment in Palm is by far the largest the firm has ever made.

The device maker has also secured $400 million and a $40 million revolving credit facility. Palm will use the proceeds from the sale of its stock and the proceeds from the new debt to fund a $9 per share cash distribution to its shareholders, excluding Elevation. The total amount of money shareholders will receive will be around $940 million. Palm expects the move will leave it with more than $300 million of cash on its balance sheet.

Subject to shareholder approval and other closing conditions, Palm expects to complete the recapitalization in the third quarter of this calendar year.

Once the deal closes, there will also be changes in Palm's board of directors.

Jon Rubinstein, Apple Inc.'s former vice president of hardware engineering and head of its iPod division, will become executive chairman of Palm's board. He will also head up Palm's product development efforts. Besides helping create the iPod music player, Rubinstein had a hand in building the iMac computer. He's seen as instrumental in Apple's successful turnaround, responsible for revamping the company's engineering teams, product road maps and manufacturing processes.

Current Chairman Eric Benhamou and board member D. Scott Mercer will resign from Palm's board and will be replaced by Rubinstein along with Fred Anderson and Roger McNamee, managing directors and co-founders of Elevation. Palm will increase the size of its board from eight to nine members. Anderson was Apple's chief financial officer from 1996 to 2004, and McNamee is a long-time venture capitalist.

The transaction means that Palm will strengthen its leadership team and "create a more effective capital structure," putting it in "a great position to attract new talent, significantly strengthen our execution capabilities, and deliver long-term shareholder value," Ed Colligan, Palm president and CEO, said in a statement.

Along with its handheld devices and Treo smart phones, Palm last week debuted a handheld computer called Foleo, which it calls a smart-phone companion device.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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