BlackBerry Faces Dim Future as Acquisition Collapses

BlackBerry Faces Dim Future as Acquisition Collapses

A big acquisition falls through, casting further doubt

A $4.7 billion deal to acquire flailing smartphone maker BlackBerry has collapsed, leading the firm to fire its CEO, hire an interim leader, and attempt to make a go of things with diminished employee ranks and collapsing sales and customer base. It's not quite accurate to say that the new BlackBerry faces an uncertain future, as the future is indeed fairly certain.

BlackBerry announced in late September that it had tentatively accepted a $4.7 billion bid from Fairfax Financial Holdings and a consortium of investors. But with the six-week due-diligence period ending, that deal has collapsed, leaving the firms with few options. BlackBerry will instead forge ahead, somehow—it has already laid off 40 percent of its workforce and essentially exited the smartphone hardware business—and Fairfax will now assume some of BlackBerry's debt, and pick up more BlackBerry stock, in return for a $1 billion investment.

The alternative, apparently, was BlackBerry going private but being saddled by enormous debt.

Related: "BlackBerry Asks for Time, Faith"

"The BlackBerry Board conducted a thorough review of strategic alternatives and pursued the course of action that it concluded is in the best interests of BlackBerry and its constituents, including its shareholders," Barbara Stymiest, the chairperson of BlackBerry's Board of Directors, said in a prepared statement. "This financing provides an immediate cash injection on terms favorable to BlackBerry, enhancing our substantial cash position. Some of the most important customers in the world rely on BlackBerry, and we are implementing the changes necessary to strengthen the company and ensure that we remain a strong and innovative partner for their needs."

Much, however, is unclear.

Thorsten Heins, hired to guide BlackBerry's turnaround and be the public face of the botched BlackBerry 10 transition, will step down as CEO, as well as from the BlackBerry board. He will be temporarily replaced by John S. Chen as interim CEO; Mr. Chen most recently guided a Sybase turnaround and sale. He also played an advisor role to Michael Dell in his successful privatization of the PC business he founded.

Although BlackBerry hasn't commented on its plans for the future, it's highly likely that we've seen the end of its hardware operations. Mr. Chen spoke of the need to "transform" the firm's business model, which perhaps suggests that a smaller BlackBerry could focus on enterprise servers and services going forward. Of course, those offerings are tightly tied to the firm's handsets, though BlackBerry Messenger was recently ported to Android and iPhone.

Mr. Heins could make over $20 million as part of his severance package.

Related: "BlackBerry Working on Multi-Platform, Cloud-Based BYOD Solution for Enterprises"

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